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Beaumont Health launches large study in the hunt for COVID-19 antibodies

Beaumont Health

Beaumont Health is launching what it believes to be the largest study in the country to date to test people for COVID-19 antibodies.

The serological blood-testing study looks to answer some crucial questions about the body’s immune response to COVID-19, including: how much immunity does having had COVID-19 provide? And how long does that immunity last?

It also aims to get a sense of how many people have actually been infected with COVID-19, including those who may have shown no symptoms.

Beaumont believes the serological tests, which have been marketed in Europe and verified by Beaumont labs, have close to a 98% accuracy rate. But that rate will also be tested during the course of the study.

The plan is to begin testing Beaumont patients and employees almost immediately. The testing is voluntary, but Beaumont estimates that as many as 30,000 people will opt to participate.

“We want to find out how many people who have gotten this are completely asymptomatic,” said Dr. Matthew Sims, Beaumont’s director of infectious disease research and the study’s principal investigator.

“And then there are a number of other things we’re looking at. How long do the antibodies last? How strong an antibody reaction do you get? Because all of these things will tie into whether or not a vaccine might work, and how hard it will be to generate a vaccine,” Sims said.

The study will also help researchers get a sense of whom to prioritize if a vaccine does become available, said Dr. Nick Gilpin, a Beaumont infectious disease specialist. It could also help them identify people with high antibody levels as potential plasma donors to treat critically-ill COVID-19 patients.

Current COVID-19 testing, which aims to find the active virus in patients, is “woefully inadequate at really giving us a true point of the prevalence of what we’re dealing with,” Gilpin said. “And I think the value of understanding where exactly this virus is at more than just a single moment in time, and really understanding the scope of the pandemic, is incredibly valuable.”

Every participant in the study will be tested at least twice and two to four weeks apart, Sims said. Some will get a third test, while others deemed high-risk—such as health care providers who may have been exposed to the virus repeatedly—will be tested every two to four weeks for the next several months.

There will also be a “durability” sub-group who will get longer-term testing for at least five years, Sims said.

Sims expects the study will produce some early results within three months, and more comprehensive results in about a year.

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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