infectious diseases & Covid-19: neutralizing antibodies examined
by Neoteryx | 3 min read
A viral pandemic was something that scientists had long predicted, but when and how it would strike was not known. Scientists and researchers also did not know that it would be caused by a new type of coronavirus, the "novel" one we now know as SARS-CoV-2. When the first SARS virus claimed lives in 2003, it became clear to researchers that this earlier coronavirus had jumped from animals to humans. This was a notable event to infectious disease experts, who knew that meant it was just a matter of time before a more contagious virus made the crossover from animals to humans.
SARS-CoV-2 appeared in humans in 2019, causing people to become infected with the illness we call COVID-19 disease. Since then, researchers have been trying to study the complex epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2, its variants, and other potentially fatal infectious diseases. A key to their investigations are serology studies, which use blood samples to detect antibodies and determine when in the disease process they develop. One facet of these studies is to identify which antibodies will fight or "neutralize" the viral invader. They seek answers to the question, How long can these neutralizing antibodies protect us against infection, and what level of protection do they provide?
Sample Collection During Lockdown
During lockdowns, it wasn't possible for study volunteers to visit trial sites. Fortunately, researchers were able to continue their studies during this period by taking a remote approach. This was made possible by the use of remote Mitra® devices and Mitra® Collection Kits from Neoteryx. Research groups and labs can offer their study participants these devices for easy, remote sample collection at home.
Mitra devices are known for minimally invasive remote microsampling. The VAMS® technology behind the devices in the kits is based on a volumetric and absorptive method of microsampling. The devices are designed with a tip that easily absorbs a scientifically precise volume of blood or other bio-fluid specimen, even if the person collecting the sample is not a trained professional. As long as they follow the enclosed instructions, or watch an online video demonstration for added guidance, the small device with the VAMS tip makes it easy for participants to collect small samples known as "microsamples." Using the pre-paid packaging, study participants can then send their self-collected samples back to the research labs for analysis.
Key Findings of Antibody Studies
Through serology studies, researchers have gained a deeper understanding of neutralizing antibodies. They have been able to identify the specific antibodies in the body that block or “neutralize” the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the IGg group of antibodies). They also have established how long these antibodies remain in the body post-infection or post-vaccination to continue providing some protection (roughly 7-8 months).
Based on these findings, researchers are trying to establish if neutralizing antibodies can be used to develop better treatments and vaccines for protection against stronger variants of SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses in the future.
What Is a Neutralizing Antibody?
Dr. Susan Payne’s book Viruses describes neutralizing antibodies as a specific defense against viral invaders. They bind to a virus to prevent it from causing an infection by blocking interactions with the receptor. They may also attach to a viral capsid to prevent the virus from removing the coating of the genome.
Payne notes that only a small subset of many antibodies are capable of neutralization. After a person becomes infected, it can be a while before the body produces highly effective neutralizing antibodies. However, once they’re formed, these "neutralizers" continue to prevent future interactions with the virus for some time.
Hypothesis: Neutralizing Antibodies are the Key to Fighting Future Pandemics
Now that scientists have discovered that neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 belong to the IgG class of antibodies, their goal is to use these to prevent and fight future pandemics. While studies show that these "neutralizers" seem to survive for up to 8 months after infection, the questions that researchers are still trying to answer are: how much they strengthen and protect the immune system, and whether the COVID-19 vaccines provide comparable immune responses in our bodies. Remote specimen collection and microsampling are being used by multiple research groups pursuing answers to these questions as they also work to keep their study participants safe at home.