UAB researcher develops at home immunity test

Just over 12% of American adults are now fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Yet, how long will the level of protection provided by the COVID-19 vaccine last?

Researchers say there is not enough data to say if vaccine induced immunity will persist for months or years.

To help people track their immunity levels, Dr. Benjamin Larimer, Ph.D., a University of Alabama at Birmingham assistant professor of radiology, has developed an at home finger prick test kit.

"The vaccines are effective, they're very effective," Larimer says. "But, there is going to be a small percentage of people in whom they don't work.  Moreover, it's going to be hard to know how long it will last on an individual level.  So, we wanted to create something we could put into people's hands so that they could check their immunity to COVID."

When a person is vaccinated against or infected by the novel coronavirus, his or her immune system produces antibodies or proteins to help the body recognize and fight off the virus.

Larimer says current antibody tests can sometimes mistake common cold antibodies for COVID-19 antibodies, leading to false-positive test results.

The UAB test would target neutralizing antibodies, a specific type of antibodies that block the virus from infecting the cells.

Larimer says his team has carefully broken down the COVID-19 virus into small pieces to identify where these neutralizing antibodies attach to the virus.

"So, if you think of the virus as being made up of Lego blocks, what we've done, is, we've taken a few key blocks from the Lego blocks, and we have trapped them on a strip," Larimer explains.  "What you would do is take a little bit of your blood from a finger prick, or something like that, and put it on the strip. Your blood will contain antibodies that your body uses to protect you against the virus. As they travel along that strip, they'll stick to specific Lego blocks, because that's what your body uses them to do."

That, he says, will measure the level of protection you have against the virus.

"With this test, you'd be able to get the vaccine and see for yourself if any of these vaccines are working for you," he says.   "It's likely your antibodies levels are going to go down over time. A year from now, you may be asking yourself, 'Am I still protected?'"

If not, he says, you may need a vaccine booster shot.

Larimer says his team is talking with potential manufacturing partners and planning to submit its data to the Food and Drug Administration, which will decide whether to clear the test kit.

That process, he says, could take several months.

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