The coronavirus pandemic has raised a lot of pressing and unanswered questions: How far has the virus spread? Do infected people become immune to COVID-19? When will life return to normal?
Those are among the questions that the Beaumont Health Research Institute in Royal Oak hopes to answer after launching what it has dubbed the “nation’s largest serological testing study for COVID-19 antibodies.”
Serological blood testing detects antibodies that fight off an infection. The presence of antibodies reveal whether someone has been infected with the coronavirus.
By detecting antibodies, the study has the potential to reveal the true mortality and infection rates of the coronavirus. Studies estimate between 25% and 50% of people with COVID-19 show no symptoms. And with a severe testing shortage, many sick people have never been tested.
Researchers will begin testing the blood of the health system’s employees and “thousands of affiliates” to determine if they have or had COVID-19. Participation is voluntary.
“In addition to answering key questions on infection spread and the percentage of total asymptomatic cases in a community, we intend to relieve anxiety through a better understanding of the spread of the infection across Beaumont Health,” Beaumont Health Vice President for Research and Director of the Beaumont Research Institute Richard Kennedy, Ph.D., says in a news release.
In theory, the presence of antibodies suggests people are immune and can return to work. But so far, that's just a theory.
“I believe having antibodies against COVID-19 will protect people from getting infected again and so do many other physicians,” Beaumont’s Director of Infectious Diseases Research Matthew Sims, M.D., Ph.D., says in the news release. “In Germany, there is a plan to give people ‘immunity passports’ if they can show they have antibodies to help them get back to work. This study will help prove that antibodies protect those who have them. It is our hope that this study provides a template for others to conduct similar research that will collectively clarify many unknowns of COVID-19.”
Beaumont Health System is holding a press conference at 1 p.m. to provide more details about the study.