Israeli researchers say they’ve developed more efficient, accurate antibody test

Tel Aviv University team say they can identify all 3 key coronavirus antibodies with an accuracy of up to 99%

Medical team members at the Barzilai hospital, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, wear protective gear as they handle a coronavirus test sample on March 29, 2020. Flash90)
Illustrative: Medical team members at the Barzilai hospital, in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, wear protective gear, as they handle a coronavirus test sample on March 29, 2020. Flash90)

Israeli researchers have developed a highly accurate and efficient test for coronavirus antibodies that could greatly contribute to ongoing efforts to assess the extent of the virus spread among the population, Channel 13 news reported Wednesday.

Antibody tests are seen as a key component in finding out who already had the disease in order to better understand its spread and shape policy ahead of a possible second outbreak.

Professors Ariel Munitz and Mordechay Gerlic of Tel Aviv University say the serological test they have produced can, from one blood sample, identify all three of the key antibodies that counter the virus.

It is apparently the first time that anyone has produced a single serological test that can spot all three of the antibodies, the report said.

The test is very sensitive and accurate to around 98-99 percent, the researchers claim, better than the current method being used in the country, which is rated at between 95% and 98%.

During the course of research carried out in cooperation with Hasharon Hospital in Petah Tikva, the team also noticed a trend showing that patients who became seriously ill from the virus developed antibodies more rapidly at an early stage of their infection than did those who had light symptoms.

Screen capture from video of Professor Ariel Munitz, of Tel Aviv University. (Channel 13 news)

“We understand this as apparently the result of, in fact, a higher activation of the immune system,” Munitz said.

The findings showed that contrary to the idea that those who became seriously ill were unable to develop antibodies, it is precisely because they developed them rapidly that they suffered the serious symptoms, he explained.

“It is important to remember that over-activation of the immune system is responsible in many cases for the serious symptoms, including incidences of death, and the speed of antibody generation among seriously ill patients is likely to bear witness to that,” Munitz noted.

Antibody tests are different from the nasal swab tests currently used to diagnose active infections. Instead, the tests look for blood proteins called antibodies, which the body produces days or weeks after fighting an infection. Most use a finger-prick of blood on a test strip. An antibody test might show if the subject had COVID-19 in the recent past, which most experts think gives people some protection. The test don’t show whether the person still has the coronavirus or has recovered.

Earlier this week Israeli health authorities launched a program to carry out tens of thousands of serological tests aimed at determining the extent of the population’s exposure to the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry, with the cooperation of the country’s health maintenance organizations, hopes to initially test some 70,000 people from 190 communities across the country.

Tens of thousands more will be tested later as part of the effort.

Tests will be performed on blood samples taken randomly from those who are anyway having blood tests done at health clinics. Samples will at first be taken from high-risk groups such as medical workers, the elderly and those with underlying health issues.

The tests can identify antibodies to the coronavirus, which can be present in the blood of those who caught the virus but did not develop any symptoms.

The number of daily infections has been steadily climbing since lockdown rules were eased in May, with cases diagnosed across the country.

On Wednesday, Israel saw its highest single-day tally since the pandemic began, with 1,013 cases diagnosed in 24 hours. The death toll rose to 324 on Thursday morning.

As the infection numbers continue to climb, cabinet ministers approved new closures on neighborhoods in some cities that have emerged as hotspots of coronavirus infections in recent days.

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