As of yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new test for antibodies of the COVID-19. This is different from the current testing that is being done, which is designed to tell if a person has an active infection. These tests use a nose or throat swab and then analyze the sample to see if any of the virus’ genetic material is present. With the new antibodies test, a finger prick is used to get a small sample of blood. Doctors then can see if the person has ever been exposed to the virus, even if you aren’t currently having, or never had, any symptoms.
The new test looks for two types of antibodies. The first is immunoglobulin M, which is made by the body a few days into an infection. The second is immunoglobulin G, which is made later but created specifically to nullify a particular invader. The test provides results in about 15 minutes. However, the developers point out that the new test can only provide information about whether or not you have antibodies, not how well they are working. So, just having antibodies does not guarantee immunity from the coronavirus because some individuals produce a powerful immune response and others don’t. Another factor is that we don’t know how long any immunity lasts.
Since asymptomatic transmission is happening, it’s known among scientists that there are people who have been infected, but don’t know it, which means that finding out the actual number of people who’ve been exposed is vital. Previously exposed individuals could potentially have some kind of immunity. If the majority of people within a community have antibodies, then it could be an indication that it’s safe to reduce the current safety restrictions in that area. Another important aspect is that it gives scientists a better idea of how wide spread the virus is within the population. By knowing this, it paints a clearer picture of the actual death rate.
As the way to identify COVID-19 infections continues to evolve, so does potential treatment options. Since there is no proven treatment yet, scientists have turned to many different options, like malaria drugs and HIV antivirals, in hopes of finding something to combat the virus. The idea of using stem cells is another option that they’re looking at. A New Jersey biotech company, Celularity, will begin an experimental study of stem cell therapy in patients with the virus. The therapy uses stem cells from the placenta that help protect a developing fetus from viruses that have infected the mother. Celularity has been studying this in cancer patients as a potential treatment.
Within the past day, the FDA approved the product to be used in clinical trials. During the trial, the two goals are to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the stem cell product. The study will be small and include infusions of the cell therapy in order to hopefully prevent participants from developing severe forms of the disease. The trial will not include a placebo control group and will take place at academic medical centers around the country. The initial results are expected in about 30 to 60 days after the first patients receive their dose. If successful, the next step would be a placebo-controlled study that would evaluate the drug’s efficacy against the disease.
According to other experts, this type of treatment doesn’t come without some risks. One issue with the natural killer cells is they can cause severe reactions in a person’s immune system that means it ends up attacking cells in the person’s lungs resulting in inflammation, which would exacerbate respiratory problems. Other cell therapies that are being tested in China are designed to dampen this immune response.