CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Eric Meissner, M.D., Ph.D., is working to learn more about healthcare workers’ “immune responses to potential [COVID-19] exposure.” As an assistant professor in MUSC’s Division of Infectious Diseases, he has a readily available sample population at his fingertips: his colleagues.
Meissner hopes to recruit “up to 440 employees – 340 of whom either work in emergency medicine or at the West Ashley specimen collection site or those who might have provided care to a patient who was infected.”
The study will use serology tests, also known as antibody tests, “that can be used to suggest whether people have been exposed to a particular pathogen by looking at their immune system,” according to Dr. Craig Crosson, the College of Medicine’s senior associate dean for research, who is also working on the study.
Participants will be mailed test kits, and will conduct the tests themselves. The tests are fairly simple and produce almost immediate results; Meissner compared interpreting the results to reading a pregnancy test.
MUSC says that all enrollees have to do is “prick their finger, draw blood, and then mix it with a reagent and apply it to a test strip.” Once the results are clear, participants snap a picture with their cell phones and upload it to a secure site. Tests will be conducted “once every 30 days for up to four months [and] researchers will observe the data in real-time to see how numbers change over time.”
While the team is using a test that is FDA approved, there are some obstacles. The test, developed by RayBiotech, is FDA approved for marketing and research, but not for clinical use. Additionally, it is unclear whether this test will react to other coronaviruses, “so there is a chance it could produce a false positive result.” To be safe, the research team is “cautioning those enrolling not to make ay health-related or life decisions based on the outcomes.”