A Paper Test Might Predict If You're Immune to COVID in Minutes

·3 min read
DAVID BENITO via Getty
DAVID BENITO via Getty

Your typical COVID test should be able to tell you just one thing: Whether or not you have the virus. While incredibly helpful, it doesn’t let you know how immune you are—information that could help you determine whether or not you should get boosted, or take that vacation you’ve been planning since before 2020, or head out to the bars for drinks with friends.

That’s why a team of MIT researchers developed a paper test that can tell you how strong your immune response to COVID is. In a study published on August 10 in the journal Cell Reports Methods, the team developed an easy test that utilizes a finger prick to obtain a miniscule amount of blood, which is then mixed with a reagent. The sample is then exposed to the testing cartridge—which holds a paper test strip—giving you the results in 10 minutes.

Like a normal COVID or even a pregnancy test, the results are revealed by way of lines that indicate whether or not you have the antibodies to protect against the virus. However, you can also use a smartphone app that’ll give you a more precise measurement of your antibody levels. If they’re low, the app might tell you to get a booster shot.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>The test works just like a typical COVID or pregnancy test and will show you lines to indicate your level of antibodies.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Cell Reports Methods / MIT</div>

The test works just like a typical COVID or pregnancy test and will show you lines to indicate your level of antibodies.

Cell Reports Methods / MIT

The researchers believe that the new test can not only help folks find out if they should get boosted, but also help the most vulnerable populations make sure they’re protected against the coronavirus, and help people make more informed decisions on what kinds of activities they should feel safe doing.

This might especially be valuable now that it seems pretty likely COVID is going to be endemic—a permanent part of our public health. Preventing exposure to COVID is increasingly impossible, but we can still prevent severe cases and even deaths.

“Among the general population, many people probably want to know how well protected they are,” Hojun Li, a cell biologist at MIT and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “But I think where this test might make the biggest difference is for anybody who is receiving chemotherapy, anybody who’s on immunosuppressive drugs for rheumatologic disorders or autoimmune diseases, and for anybody who’s elderly or doesn't mount good immune responses in general. These are all people who might need to be boosted sooner or receive more doses to achieve adequate protection.”

The team behind the test have filed for a patent on the test and hope to soon get FDA approval to take it to market. Once it does, it could further help lower case and death numbers from wreaking havoc as it did in the early days of the pandemic, and does during periodic COVID waves.

Overall, the test is a true sign of the times, indicating the world’s increasingly blasé attitude towards a virus that has claimed more than six million lives worldwide. Despite the fact that the pandemic is still very much raging, people are less and less worried about catching it compared to two years ago.

Instead, we seem more concerned about living our everyday lives the way we used to. This test is just another way for us to get back to something like normal—despite the fact that the coronavirus is a clear and present danger.

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