UB researchers studying whether COVID antibodies leads to immunity

May 8, 2020

New York State has been a large proponent of wide scale COVID-19 antibody testing, even though the World Health Organization has casted doubts about it.

UBMD and the Jacobs School of Medicine is doing anti-body testing of its own in partnership with Kaleida Health
Credit University at Buffalo

Does the presence of COVID-19 antibodies mean that individual has immunity to the virus? It’s something actively being discussed and researched in the medical community.

“We don’t know if that it implies lasting immunity,” said Gibbons. “But I would put forward that if I knew one of my children was antibody positive, I would probably have him or her do the shopping,” said UBMD Physician’s Group Executive Director Dr. Kevin Gibbons.

Gibbons’ colleague and the chair of UB’s Pathology Department Dr. John Tomaszewski said these data points in both viral and antibody testing help set baselines for advancement of research.

“What we want to know is not just about the viral particles and the antibody response, but we want to know that over time,” Tomaszewski said. “We want to know the curves that people are on and where they’re at and where they are going.”

Tomaszewski said the blood droplet testing thousands of New Yorkers took part in is a good first step in a more large scale examination of antibodies.

“It’s really meant to be something that just looks at a population,” Tomaszewski said. “We’re looking for the epidemiology of the virus, where it has been and its prevalence in the population.” 

Gibbons said Tomazewski had put to rest the idea that COVID antibody testing could bring up false positives because of the presence of other antigens

“When the Abbott antibody test became available, you [Tomaszewski] took serum from a bunch of patients from a few years ago and ran it through, and happily not a single one of them came through positive,” said Gibbons. “So it eliminated greatly the idea that there may be cross-antigenicity with the cold virus’.”

One way some researchers are trying prove the effectiveness of antibodies in a vaccine for COVID-19, Gibbons said, is known as challenge testing, where known antibody holders are exposed to the virus. It is something being tried overseas, but he noted it’s unlikely something like that would occur in the United States for ethical standard reasons.