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University of Warwick joins major programme to help develop Covid-19 antibody tests to track level of infection in the community

  • National research assessing antibody tests supported by medical students from Warwick Medical School
  • Key workers from West Midlands Fire Service, regional police services and other public services to be tested to track levels of community infection
  • University of Warwick is one of several UK sites testing volunteers

Medical students at Warwick Medical School are conducting tests for key workers in the region as part of national research assessing Covid-19 antibody tests.Medical students from the University of Warwick are helping to develop antibody tests for Covid-19 by conducting tests for key workers recruited from the police and fire service in the West Midlands.

The University of Warwick has joined a national programme to improve understanding of how many people are currently infected with the Covid-19 virus, which could also indicate how many people have been infected and recovered since the outbreak began.

Warwick is supporting the second part of the programme called REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-2), led by Imperial College London across six testing sites. Students from Warwick Medical School are helping Imperial assess a number of different antibody tests for their accuracy and how easily people can use them at home without assistance from a healthcare professional.

As part of the study frontline workers will visit the University of Warwick campus by appointment for a series of antibody tests, which will last for six weeks from the week of 1st June. Warwick Medical School is supporting the programme in collaboration with clinicians from University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust. New Covid-19 health and safety procedures are in place and all volunteers and staff will adhere to social distancing and infection control guidelines whilst on campus.

Key workers volunteering to take part will take six tests each which will help evaluate alternative means of sampling people for the presence of Covid-19 antigens and antibodies. All samples will be sent to Imperial College London for analysis and the results will be compared with gold-standard laboratory testing on participants’ blood samples to assess the accuracy of the tests.

Antibodies are made by the immune system to fight infection and this programme addresses the urgent need for fast and accurate antibody tests that show whether someone has been infected with the virus which causes Covid-19. This study will assess how easy these tests are to use, improve the testing process and compare the results of the self-antibody tests to other more established ways of testing for antibodies. The data will help guide the Government’s planning on which test should be used.

Antibody testing is used to assess how far the infection has spread and what proportion of the population has been infected. These tests could identify individuals who may have some immunity to the virus, help plan services for those who do not and indicate how many people have already been infected in the UK.

Professor Sudhesh Kumar OBE, Dean of Warwick Medical School, said: “I’m delighted that our students at Warwick Medical School are supporting this vital work as part of the Covid-19 pandemic emergency response, and are contributing to learning and research nationally and internationally. It’s also a great opportunity for them to use their hard-learned clinical skills and serve our local community working on the frontline at this time of national need.

“We are pleased to be supporting our local public services during a period of unprecedented challenges. Their welcome involvement in this programme reflects the great spirit of collaboration across our region at this time of crisis.”

Chief Fire Officer Phil Loach of West Midlands Fire Service, which has recently joined the programme, said: “As a public service that largely operates within our communities, WMFS understands the impact this virus is having on our daily lives. I’m proud therefore of the level of support WMFS has been able to offer REACT2, with significant numbers of staff volunteering to take part in this critical research into testing. We stand ready as a Service to support any future work or research opportunities offered to us that seeks to improve the current situation facing the world with regards to this pandemic.”

Accurate testing for coronavirus on a wide scale will be vital to guide public health strategies and decision-making by providing authorities with a clearer picture of the current burden of the disease and of the number of people who have previously caught it.

Home testing kits are widely used in health care but the accuracy of Covid-19 antibody tests has been questioned and their usability by members of the public has not been investigated.

If antibody self-testing is found to be accurate and usable by the public, it will be rolled out in the final stage to 100,000 people later this year to provide an indication of the prevalence of Covid-19 in England.

Ends

30 June 2020

For interviews contact:

Peter Thorley

Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics) | Press & Media Relations | University of Warwick
Email: peter.thorley@warwick.ac.uk 

Mob: +44 (0) 7824 540863