April 13, 2020

Memorial Healthcare Continues to Pioneer Cutting-Edge Autoimmune Research and Testing by Introducing Rapid Immunity Testing for COVID-19

New blood test allows for same-day results and may provide key insights for a COVID-19 vaccine 

Memorial Healthcare has announced the availability of a rapid test kit that identifies patient immunity to COVID-19 beginning in May. The new immunity test, which is able to determine previous patient exposure, could be a vital step in researching COVID-19 vaccination.

Memorial Healthcare of Owosso is known for its cutting-edge research as the first clinically based facility in the United States to offer Neurofilament Light Chain (NfL) testing in 2019. Led by Dr. Rany Aburashed, Chief of Neurology and Director of Multiple Sclerosis at Memorial’s Institute for Neuroscience, over 1000 patients and individuals are currently enrolled in a NfL research trial using single molecule array technology. As a leading expert in autoimmune research, Memorial Healthcare has continued its quest to pursue innovative research and testing to include the novel coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 test is not designed for the first onset of symptoms. It’s designed to detect antibody levels that are indicators of immunity,” said Memorial Healthcare Laboratory Director Nicholas Decker, MLS (ASCP). “Whenever we study vaccines, we always want to investigate which people recovered and which people had a nice strong immune system response.”

The new test can provide results within 90 minutes of a patient’s blood sample being taken. Memorial Healthcare is the first medical provider in the Shiawassee County region to offer the test.  The hope is to be able to rapidly assess a large number of samples and confer which individuals have been exposed and developed immunity to COVID-19.

The test works by detecting levels of immunoglobin G (IgG) antibodies in a patient’s blood. In patients with healthy immune systems, high levels of IgG are present in the later stages of COVID-19 infection. Certain levels of the antibody in a blood sample indicate that the patient being tested has already been exposed to COVID-19 and has recovered successfully – a sign that they are immune to the virus.

“When we first encountered this virus, everyone was rightfully focused on detecting infection and treating it immediately,” said Decker. “This immunity test is a vital next step. It’s designed to show that when you form strong antibodies, especially IgG antibodies, then the body is better equipped to fight it off without becoming extremely ill.”

It is important to note that patients who are immune to COVID-19 may still carry the virus and infect others. In addition to providing insight for COVID-19 vaccine research, Decker said there are four clinical utilization pathways for patients testing positive for immunity.

  • Expectant mothers due to give birth during the COVID-19 crisis may be able to visit the hospital for delivery, as elevated IgG levels have shown promise in protecting newborns from viral infection.
  • Employers, educational institutions, and healthcare facilities can use the test to vet employee and student health before they return to the workplace.
  • Individual patients that are immune to COVID-19 may be able to resume normal activities without risk of reinfection. However, those immune to COVID-19 could still carry the virus and infect others.
  • In the event of a future COVID-19 outbreak, patients testing positive for immunity may be able to avoid vaccination.

“One thing we know about the coronavirus is that it mutates very slowly,” said Decker. “That’s very good news, because a COVID-19 vaccine should be effective in the long term. The reason we have to do flu shots each year is that the virus mutates very rapidly. COVID-19 is more like measles, which is very stable. One vaccine and one recovery phase could provide ample protection.”

For more information on Memorial Healthcare’s progressive autoimmune research and technology programs, including how you can participate in Memorial Healthcare’s Institute for Neuroscience Neurofiliment Light Chain (NfL) research trail, please visit www.MemorialHealthcare.org.

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