A look at the advantages of rapid testing.
In the race to understand SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and prevent the spread of the pandemic, a decentralized international consortium of scientists and doctors from a wide range of fields have converged to establish rapid medical tests. These tests form the backbone of a data-based approach to containing and understanding the pandemic.
Determining the presence of antibodies does not necessarily identify a patient who is positive for COVID-19 but it does allow health officials to study immunity, exposure history, and information that is relevant to monitoring the spread and making informed decisions. The main advantage of rapid antibody testing is to understand the body’s adaptive immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and track the exposure of essential healthcare workers.
Some companies in the private sector have developed affordable and fast COVID-19 antibody testing. Truvian, for example, produced the Easy Check COVID-19 IgM/IgG antibody test, which allows organizations to do their own onsite testing and get results in 10 minutes.
This serology test does not tell you who is positive for COVID-19 but rather identifies the antibodies IgM and IgG, which tells you whether a person’s immune system is or has been fighting off an infection. Such information allows companies and organizations to evaluate risk factors. And in terms of diagnostic value, scalable data of this sort can help local governments and cities reduce restrictions.
In a blog post for Truvian, Stephen Rawlings, a scientist at the University of California San Diego stated that the company’s samples have a high success rate in identifying antibodies and minimizing false positives.
While there is still much to be learned, he wrote, “What we do know, is that it’s now been 6 months and there have been no real solid cases of people who have been re-infected, which suggests that nature is doing what it does and protecting us from a repeat infection. We therefore suspect it works like other viruses, but researchers looking to understand the virus need more samples from individuals with the SARS-CoV-2 antibodies to keep studies progressing.”
In addition to rapid antibody testing, medical scientists have also used rapid genome testing to help with COVID-19. According to the National Institute of Health states that a “genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.”
Genome sequencing is a complex process that requires decoding the specific order of an organism’s DNA, which ultimately produces a sequence of over 3 billion genetic pieces of information. The value of understanding your own genome is almost like a medical Holy Grail, and that’s why so many companies are racing to provide consumer-friendly tests.
Patients who have their genome decoded can learn about their specific drug sensitivities, your family history of diseases or genetic illnesses, multifactorial or monogenic health conditions. A variety of fields, including algorithmic technology, nutrigenomics, nutrition, dietetics, and genomics all intersect here.
Rapid genome sequencing has also played a role in COVID-19 pandemic, as scientists use this technology for contact tracing and source tracing local outbreaks.
In New Zealand, for example, scientists use genomics to study the source of a second-wave outbreak by identifying that a current cluster of infections had a B.1.1.1 lineage, which is seen in the UK and also Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Therefore, scientists could winnow down the possibilities and know that the second wave there was the result of a border incursion from one of these geographic regions or is simply part of a continuation of transmission from the first wave.
Again, antibody testing and genome sequencing can not by itself solve the current pandemic, but the information these tests produce can form a kind of wall of data that will help health officials, doctors, and heads of organizations make critical decisions. Ultimately, such decisions are likely to play a major role in containing transmission. Just as importantly, such information will help us to better fight any future novel coronaviruses or other pandemics.