John TrantProfessor John Trant is working to develop a simple test to determine whether a vaccine has effected immunity to COVID-19.

UWindsor researchers helping to develop COVID19 immunity test

After receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, you will want to know if you have gained immunity to the very contagious and potentially life-threatening virus. UWindsor professor John Trant is working with a biomedical industry partner to develop a simple antibody test that will quickly tell if the vaccine has boosted your immune system enough to create antibodies that will fight off the coronavirus.

“With just a few minutes and a drop of blood, we will be able to determine if the vaccine has made you immune to COVID-19,” says Dr. Trant, a chemistry and biochemistry professor.

A joint partnership grant of $75,000 from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Ontario Centres of Excellence through their Alliance VIP Partnership for Industry, along with support from the industry partner, Windsor-based biomedical company Audacia Bioscience, will finance the COVID-19 Neutralizing Antibody Test Kit.

Trant and his team of graduate students are helping test the chemistry of the antibody test, which is made as a lateral flow test: using a simple device called a lateral flow cassette, the tool detects the presence of a target substance in a liquid sample.

“Most people are familiar with a home pregnancy test which uses a lateral flow cassette to look for and measure the presence and level of the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Hormone in a woman’s urine,” Trant says.

“With the COVID19 test, the cassette tests for the presence of antibodies in your blood. You only need to prick your finger and the cassette can detect and measure the number of antibodies, so in this case two pink lines mean you can celebrate COVID-19 immunity.”

Phillip Olla is the CEO of Audacia Bioscience, which he runs with his partner, chief scientific officer Stephen Bartol. Dr. Olla says even with availability of the vaccine, a certain percentage of the population must be inoculated and demonstrating immunity for life to return to normal.

“It is critical that we have an uncomplicated and fast way to determine the state of the immune response to various vaccines, including how long that immunity will last, whether that is three months, six months, or two years,” says Olla. “Determining if a patient has immunity, and for how long they have immunity, will be valuable in knowing who may need a booster shot or who may need to try a different vaccine altogether.”

The research team is currently investigating a prototype test to check how long protection lasts and what level of antibodies determine an immunity level.

“We are making sure this rapid test is reliable and can do what we need — that the buffer fluid works quickly enough, that the test’s sensitivity is accurate to measure low, medium, and high antibody level,s and that the materials we’ve chosen will not damage or destroy the antibodies,” says Trant.

Once his research team has validated the cassette, Audacia Bioscience will start testing immunized individuals. This data will start to paint a picture and they could even be able to determine how gender, or different ethnicities, may affect reactions to the vaccine.

Much of this project is about building up irrefutable scientific data, says Olla, data that will help the public understand and therefore trust the safety of various vaccines.

“We need 70 per cent of the population to voluntarily get vaccinated to eradicate the virus, or at least make it scarce,” he says.

“More people will get the vaccine if they feel safe, so it is crucial we start collecting the data now, and that researchers openly shares their results, so six months from now when the vaccine is more widely available, we will have collected an appropriate amount of information — it’s building trust through data.”