Culture

New Antibody Tests That Can Detect Variants #Covid19

Antibody tests that can detect whether people have been exposed to new variants of Covid-19 have been developed by the University of Aberdeen, in collaboration with biotechnology group Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd and NHS Grampian. 

The new tests can detect antibody responses to infection by SARS-CoV-2 virus with more than 98% accuracy and 100% specificity. This is in contrast to currently available tests that are around 60-93% accurate and cannot differentiate unique variants.  

For the first time, the new tests can be used to estimate the prevalence of circulating variant strains in the community, including the variants first identified in Kent and in India, now known as the Alpha and Delta variants. The tests can also assess the long-term immunity of an individual and whether immunity is vaccine-induced or is a result of previous exposure to the infection – information that is invaluable in helping to prevent the spread of infection.  

In addition to this, the tests can also provide information that can be used to estimate the duration of the immunity provided by the vaccine as well as the effectiveness of the vaccine on emerging variants.  

This is an improvement on the currently available tests that struggle to detect variants and give little or no information on the impact of virus mutations on vaccine performance.  

Professor Mirela Delibegovic from the University of Aberdeen and academic lead on the project explains:

“Accurate antibody tests will become increasingly important in the management of the pandemic and this is a truly game-changing technology with the potential to dramatically change the trajectory of global recovery from the pandemic.” 

Professor Delibegovic worked alongside industry partners, Vertebrate Antibodies and colleagues in NHS Grampian to develop the new tests using the innovative antibody technology known as Epitogen. 

Funded by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office Rapid Response in COVID-19 (RARC-19) research programme, the team used artificial intelligence called EpitopePredikt, to identify specific elements, or ‘hot spots’ of the virus that trigger the body’s immune defence. The researchers were then able to develop a new way to display these viral elements as they would appear naturally in the virus, using a biological platform they named EpitoGen Technology. This approach enhances the test’s performance which means only relevant viral elements are included to allow improved sensitivity. Importantly, this approach is capable of incorporating emerging mutants into the tests thus enhancing the test detection rates.  

As well as Covid-19, the EpitoGen platform can be used for the development of highly sensitive and specific diagnostic tests for infectious and auto-immune diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes. 

Dr Abdo Alnabulsi, Chief Operating Officer of AiBIOLOGICS, who helped develop the technology said:

“Our tests have been designed in line with the gold standard requirements for such tests and in our trials they have proven to be more accurate while giving more useful information than existing tests.” 

Dr Tiehui Wang, Director of Biologics at Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd, added: “We are extremely proud that our technologies have made such a contribution in a very challenging year.  

“The EpitoGen tests are the first of their kind and will play a significant role in combating the pandemic and pave the way for future diagnostics”. 

Scotland has moved to embrace more testing which last year as we went into the first lockdown it appeared reluctant to do. Other countries, like The Faroes, used extensive testing from the very start repurposing veterinary labs in the islands to be used for the pandemic.

Vaccination is carrying on apace in Scotland but daily stats are worrying as the new Delta strain reaches into our communities and cases rise.

The stats published for 16th of June are:

  • 1,129 new cases of COVID-19 reported
  • 35,638 new tests for COVID-19 that reported results
    • 3.4% of these were positive
  • 1 new reported death(s) of people who have tested positive
  • 15 people were in intensive care yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 133 people were in hospital yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 3,551,739* people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination and 2,493,358* have received their second dose

* this excludes data from GP systems from 14 June 2021. These will be included in tomorrow’s figures.

When cases rise there is more opportunity for the virus to mutate.

Commenting on the anti body tests developed by Aberdeen University Professor Delibegovic said:

“As we move through the pandemic we are seeing the virus mutate into more transmissible variants such as the Delta variant whereby they impact negatively on vaccine performance and overall immunity. Currently available tests cannot detect these variants.  As the virus mutates, existing antibody tests will become even less accurate hence the urgent need for a novel approach to incorporate mutant strains into the test – this is exactly what we have achieved. 

“Looking ahead, discussions are already underway to explore a possible roll-out of the tests to the NHS which we hope to see happen soon.” 

Dr Brittain-Long, Consultant in Infectious Diseases in NHS Grampian and a member of the research team added:

“This new testing platform adds crucial sensitivity and specificity to the current available serology tests and has the potential to monitor individual and population based immunity in a way that has not been possible before.  

“In my work I have experienced first-hand the detrimental effects this virus can have on people, and I am very excited to add another tool in the toolbox to fight this pandemic.” 

In Orkney 12,439 (94.5%) of people aged 40+ have had the first dose of the covid vaccine and 11,860 (90.1%) have had both doses. Investigations are already underway to develop a booster jag.

Vaccination protects most people from getting really ill from the virus but you can still catch covid and you can still pass it on.

As our streets and shops become busier it is important to continue to observe FACTS

  • wear a face covering
  • avoid crowded places
  • clean hands and surfaces regularly
  • stay 2m away from other people
  • self-isolate and get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms
  • download the Protect Scotland app

Free, fast and regular testing for people who do not have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) is available to everyone in Scotland.

There are a number of ways you can get a rapid LFD test.

If you currently get rapid LFD test kits from your nursery or childcare provider, school, college, university or workplace you should continue to do so.

Order online for home delivery

Your order will contain one pack with seven LFD tests inside, and it will be delivered to your home in one to two days. You can only order one pack per household each day.

If you’re ordering for another household in addition to your own household, you should:

  • complete a separate order
  • use their personal details including name, address, date of birth and email address

If you cannot place an order online, you can order by calling 119.

Collect a rapid LFD test kit from your nearest COVID-19 test site

Up to two packs of seven LFD tests can be collected per household. If you are collecting for multiple people, up to four packs of seven LFD tests can be collected.

You can collect your packs of LFD tests from a COVID-19 test site between 8am to 8pm. You do not need to book an appointment.

Collect a rapid LFD test kit from your nearest pharmacy

One pack of seven LFD tests can be collected per person. If you are collecting on behalf of a household, you may receive one pack for each household member.

Carry out a rapid LFD test at a test site

You may be able to visit a community asymptomatic test site if they are available in your area.

Check the targeted community testing page to see if there is a community asymptomatic test site in your local authority.

To find out more click on this link: Lateral Flow Tests

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