Scientists develop Covid antibody test to map spread of variants

·2 min read
The Delta variant -  Christopher Furlong
The Delta variant - Christopher Furlong

Scientists have created an antibody test which can spot whether people have been exposed to new Covid-19 variants, in a development which could come as a game-changer for Britain's efforts to keep emerging strains under control.

The University of Aberdeen has worked with biotech company Vertebrate Antibodies and NHS Grampian to develop the test, which they say can tell whether people have developed antibodies to a Covid-19 infection with more than 98pc accuracy.

The scientists say the test can show which variant a person has been exposed to, whether their immunity comes from having had a vaccine or having been infected, as well as helping to track how effective vaccines are in battling new emerging strains . They said the test would also be able to estimate how long someone would have immunity to the virus after having been vaccinated.

Professor Mirela Delibegovic from the University of Aberdeen said other tests on the market were unable to detect whether someone had been exposed to a Covid-19 variant.

She said: "As we move through the pandemic we are seeing the virus mutate into more transmissible variants such as the Delta variant whereby they impact negatively on vaccine performance and overall immunity.

"As the virus mutates, existing antibody tests will become even less accurate hence the urgent need for a novel approach to incorporate mutant strains into the test – this is exactly what we have achieved."

It comes after Boris Johnson last night announced a delay to the UK unlocking roadmap amid concerns over the Delta variant, which first emerged in India.

The group of scientists behind the new antibody test said they were already in talks with the NHS over a possible rollout across the UK.

The UK has so far focused more of its efforts around antigen tests which can tell if someone currently has Covid-19, although at the start of the pandemic had said that antibody tests, to tell if someone had previously had Covid-19, could prove "game-changing".

Since then, however, they have remained only available to NHS staff and social care workers. The NHS has said this is because antibody tests do not tell people whether they are immune to the virus, or that they cannot spread the virus to other people.

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