Sri Lankan among scientists who developed portable test for antibodies

A Sri Lankan expert was part of an international research team led by Oxford University scientists who have developed a portable test for antibodies that fight the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Professor Neelika Malavige of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura said that she was part of the major project.

The test, which spots the presence of virus-fighting antibodies rather than a coronavirus infection, can be adapted to work on blood from a finger prick – making it quick and easy to use. The research team, which includes scientists from Taiwan, India, Thailand and France, as well as UK university and NHS researchers, trialled the test on patients with COVID-19, but now hope to adapt it to identify those who have successfully generated antibodies after a vaccine, versus those who may need a booster.

The scientists also hope that the large-scale use of their tests might help researchers and policy-makers track levels of protective immunity in the community.

Antibodies are large proteins that lock onto and help the body’s immune system fight off disease-causing organisms, such as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Both infection with the virus and vaccines can generate antibodies.

There are already several commercial tests, which can detect whether someone has antibodies against the novel coronavirus, but these tests are expensive and usually need a central laboratory to analyse them. This is especially a problem in low-income countries.

Study lead Professor Alain Townsend from the MRC Human Immunology Unit at Oxford University said: ‘Our test is very cheap to produce, so we are using existing funding from charitable donations to offer 10 million tests for research purposes to countries that cannot support very high-tech solutions.’

The test relies on linking a part of the viral spike protein to the surface of red blood cells. When antibodies to the virus are present they create a clump of red blood cells. This clump is big enough to be seen by eye. (Colombo Gazette)

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