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Mayo Clinic unveils new antibody test for COVID-19

Neutralizing antibodies are key to preventing future infection, and could lead to therapies and vaccines for COVID-19.

ROCHESTER, Minn — Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic and its research partners have launched a new type of antibody test designed to help develop therapies and vaccines for COVID-19.

The new test measures neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. According to Mayo Clinic, "neutralizing antibodies are a subset of antibodies able to independently inactivate viruses, and are associated with protective immunity against re-infection."

"This new test provides us with incredibly important information about how effective a person’s antibodies are at neutralizing the virus," said William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D., president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, in a statement. "This will help us identify optimal convalescent plasma donors and ultimately help assess the efficacy of anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccines."

According to Mayo Clinic, most coronavirus patients develop an immune response after infection with COVID-19, which includes producing neutralizing antibodies. Doctors say those neutralizing antibodies are key to preventing future infection, but it's still unclear how long those neutralizing antibodies remain in a person's body after infection, and how many neutralizing antibodies are needed to give a person immunity from getting COVID-19 again.

This neutralizing antibody test is different from current molecular tests, which are used to diagnose a COVID-19 infection; it also differs from serology testing, which can show a previous infection by detecting antibodies for the coronavirus. The new test is able to detect neutralizing antibodies where existing serology tests cannot.

"The neutralizing antibody test adds that next level of detail for researchers and clinicians by providing an accurate estimate of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing activity," said John Mills, Ph.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Neuroimmunology Laboratory, in a statement.

Mayo cautions the new test should not be used as a method to diagnose a COVID-19 infection; it should only be used with people who have previously tested positive.

Mayo Clinic Laboratories will make the new neutralizing antibody tests available to select labs starting in late June.

Mayo Clinic developed the neutralizing antibody test in partnership with researchers at Regeneron and fellow Rochester, Minnesota-based companies Vyriad, Inc. and Imanis Life Sciences.

Dr. Rianna Vandergaast, a senior scientist at Imanis Life Sciences, helped develop the test. She said the idea traces back to March 22, just days after COVID-19 shut down most of American life, when she received an email about an emergency meeting to discuss test development. 

"It’s an amazing effort – I’ve never seen anything scientifically move this fast," Vandergaast said. "Which I think is a testament to all the people involved.” 

RELATED: Mayo Clinic hopes more testing leads to more plasma donations for COVID-19 patients

RELATED: Mayo Clinic, U of M on Minnesota's coronavirus testing

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.