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New coronavirus antibody test developed by Bern scientists is three times faster

Wednesday 5 August 2020

Using serum samples from COVID-19 patients, a test developed at the Institute of Virology and Immunology (IVI) of the University of Bern and the Swiss Federal Office for Food Safety and Animal Health determines the amount of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

In cooperation with colleagues from the Ruhr-University Bochum, research teams from Institute of Virology and Immunology (IVI) of the University of Bern and the Swiss Federal Office for Food Safety and Animal Health from Bern have launched a COVID-19 detection test that takes only 18 hours and does not have high biosafety requirements.

To determine immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and the effectiveness of potential vaccines, the amount of neutralizing antibodies in the blood of recovered or vaccinated individuals must be determined. A traditional neutralization test usually takes two to three days and must be carried out with infectious coronaviruses in a laboratory complying with biosafety level 3.

In order to detect antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the researchers used another virus that does not propagate. They exchanged the envelope protein of this virus for the spike protein of the novel coronavirus, which mediates virus entry and infection.

In order to check the reliability and comparability with the conventional neutralization test, the researchers applied it to blood samples from COVID-19 patients. Compared to 56 hours for the conventional test, the new test is much faster, with only 18 hours to the test result. "Another great advantage is that it can be carried out in almost all medical labs, because no sophisticated safety precautions are necessary," points out Dr. Gert Zimmer from the Institute of Virology and Immunology in Bern, corresponding author of the study.

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