With the permission of the Ethics Committee, scientists from the University of Tartu Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine analysed blood plasma samples taken at Tartu University Hospital from patients suffering from COVID-19 and confirmed the effectiveness of their method for detecting SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
Antibodies are produced in the organism of a person infected with COVID-19 within 14-28 days. Testing them in regard to their antibodies can confirm their having become infected and determine whether they have developed immunity to the coronavirus.
According to the head of the UT Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine and a professor of molecular immunology, Pärt Peterson, the developed method for detecting antibodies is quick, easy and suitable for analysing hundreds of COVID-19 samples a day.
The work of the scientists at the Biomedicine department started when they managed to acquire a fragment of the DNA of COVID-19 from the biotechnology company Icosagen in Tartu. To develop the antibody test, the scientists adopted the help of bioluminescence, which only a few animals can do in nature, including deep sea shrimp, so their method has an almost non-existent unspecific background.
The relatively new LIPS method was used for detecting the antibodies having the advantage of measuring the binding of the antibody to the SARS-CoV-2 proteins in a manner as close to natural conditions as possible. Peterson says that, in the future, LIPS would be suitable for assessing the antibodies of risk groups such as medical workers and the residents and staff of nursing homes.
According to the professor, this method marks the first breakthrough made at the University of Tartu. “Needless to say, we have very few samples to work with at the moment, so to get a better picture, we need to analyse the blood plasma of a hundred to two hundred people who’ve had COVID-19. That task still lies ahead of us and our partners, and of course we’ll also need the permissions of the Ethics Committee to go ahead with further blood tests,” said Peterson.
Peterson says that, in the current phase, they can assist with the monitoring studies being launched in Estonia, which will give an idea on the spread of the Coronavirus in Estonia and the development of herd immunity. “If the test is to be used diagnostically, it needs to undergo several clinical trials and that takes time.”
“We hope other antibody tests will soon also become available and that they will be able to be compared. Rapid testing is already being offered on the market, but so far there is limited data on its accuracy,” he added.
Contributing to the testing method developed at the University of Tartu was the laboratory team at the Institute of Biomedicine under the Faculty of Medicine, comprising Liis Haljasmägi, Anu Remm, Hanna Sein and Kai Kisand. Professor Peterson also expressed his thanks to Anu Tamm at Tartu University Hospital, and Andres Männik and Mart Ustav at Icosagen. “Without all of their help we wouldn’t have been able to get this method to work as quickly as we have,” said Peterson.
Professor of Molecular Immunology, University of Tartu
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Communication Specialist at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Tartu
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The translation of this article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.