To study the aftermath of the infections by the coronavirus, researchers at Harvard Medical School and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are using an antibody detection tool called VirScan. Developed in 2005, VirScan detects the antibodies in people’s blood which helps indicate the active and past infections by bacteria and viruses. Using a single drop of blood, it scans for antibodies against more than 1000 strains of viruses and bacteria that might have infected a person at the time of the test or even decades earlier.
If a person has encountered a particular virus, their immune system generates antibodies against it which then recognizes the epitope (an antigen that is capable of stimulating an immune response) in the VirScan library, binds to it, and gives a positive result indicating the previous presence of that virus in the patient’s body. Last year, VirScan was used to help reveal how measles infection wipes out the immune system’s memory of past infections by bacteria and other viruses which gives researchers hope that they can do the same to study coronavirus as well.
The researcher’s goal is to analyze the blood samples of people who have already recovered from coronavirus and to learn about the effects of the virus on the immune system. The reason why blood samples from recovered patients are taken is that it takes a person 5 to 10 days to develop antibodies due to which VirScan can not be used to provide a real-time diagnosis of an infection. In addition to VirScan, T-Scan is also being used to assist researchers in making a vaccine.
T Cells are immune cells that react to specific epitopes; alerted to the danger by these epitopes, T cells can kill virus-infected cells and limit the number of viruses made/ replicated in the body. Researchers hope to identify the epitopes that trigger T-cells attacks which could provide the data regarding the structure of the coronavirus.
The researchers hope that when enough data is extracted from the blood samples, they can analyze these samples and work towards the development of a vaccine to help against this global pandemic.
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