CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina are developing a test that could predict how severe a patient’s reaction will be to COVID-19.
Dr. Peggi Angel, Dr. Richard Drake, and Dr. Anand Mehta work in MUSC’s Department of Cell and Molecular Pharmacology. For years, they have individually studied sugars attached to proteins
The test was originally designed to look at how sugars would change with the development of cancer, but they applied the same logic to the virus that causes COVID-19.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is covered in sugar molecules called gylcans.
Researchers said they test the glycans that are attached to the antibodies, which can change over time with the disease.
“How the sugars are arranged actually form a code and that’s what we are finding predicts outcomes, so how aggressively the virus is going to affect a certain person versus another person who might not experience much of an impact,” Angel said.
If a person tests positive for the disease, researchers say the goal is to be able to predict whether they will have a mild reaction that does not require hospitalization, or a severe reaction that could result in them ending up in the hospital.
Mehta says they would need to wait three to seven days after a person tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 by a nasal swab test in order to test for the reaction.
"We measure both the antibodies to the virus and all antibodies at the same time. When the immune response first starts the body has weak antibodies that get improved upon through a process of antibody selection," Mehta said. "By measuring all antibodies, we measure these as well. We are also using a very sensitive machine that can detect incredibly small changes in the glycan on only a few antibody molecules."
The researchers say this a multifaceted assay that could help answer other questions related to the virus in the future.
“When vaccine testing begins, this same assay can be useful there to help stratify people that have a good response versus people who have a weak response versus those who have no response,” Drake said.
They have partnered with Bruker, a company that develops scientific instruments that will allow this type of testing to be done quickly.
They hope to have this testing available to MUSC Health clinics before the second wave of COVID-19 hits.