London, Ont., COVID-19 antibody test under review could allow for fast, inexpensive testing

A team out of Western University in London, Ont., says it has developed a COVID-19 antibody test that is faster and more accurate than any currently approved in Canada.

A scientific article about the test, currently under peer review but available as a pre-print, says it can be completed in five minutes and can use blood or plasma samples to detect antibodies, “with 100 per cent specificity and 98 per cent sensitivity.”

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“My test is really quite simple, it works very similar to the typing that is actually performed very routinely in clinical labs,” says Shawn Li of the Li Lab at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

“It uses a very cheap interior called microbeads, could be made from the latex or any and those rubber materials, that’s very small, tiny beads not even visible to the eye. We can coat that with the same antigen that is produced by the vaccines… If we mix the microbeads with somebody’s blood and that blood contains the antibody against that protein, it’s called spike protein, and then that microbead will start to form aggregates, then that would change colour.”

The test is not effective on those newly infected, but researchers say it can measure antibodies days after someone has contracted the disease.

I think we tested hundreds of samples so far. We haven’t seen false negatives… and we also have a very high sensitivity, which I think we determined to be about 98 per cent.”

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Researchers say there are fewer than 20 antibody tests approved by Health Canada, but the department has allowed for an expedited review of submissions.

It is estimated that 70 per cent of the population will need to show immunity, ideally through vaccination, in order to reach widespread immunity against the coronavirus.

The team says its antibody test could help measure that figure.

Western’s WORLDiscoveries has applied for a U.S. provisional patent on the technology and is looking for partners to make the test commercially available.

“We talked with a couple of potential industrial partners to make the test but the materials of these really cost very little so I would envision probably something $10-ish if somebody can make it commercially,” Li says.

The development of the test “was made possible by the $20-million Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund,” WORLDiscoveries says.

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— with files from Global News’ Katie Dangerfield.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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