If you catch COVID-19, your body produces antibodies to protect you from being reinfected, right? Wrong. It turns out not all antibodies are created equal. It’s one of the many confounding features of the virus and a possible clue to creating safe and effective treatments. Scientists at The Ohio State University have created a laboratory test that not only turns out quicker results but also identifies the “neutralizing” antibodies that block infection.
Some antibodies are protective, some are not protective, and some might even enhance infection, according to OSU researchers in the school’s Center for Retrovirus Research, Infectious Diseases Institute, and the College of Veterinary Medicine. The new test identifies whether a patient’s antibodies block viral replication. Overall, ICU patients show the highest concentration of neutralizing antibodies, while convalescent plasma donors and healthcare workers have the lowest. Because of the wide spectrum of antibody levels, the test will be valuable to doctors and patients for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shan-Lu Liu, professor in the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Veterinary Biosciences and the senior author of a new journal article describing the assay, said, “Our assay examines whether antibodies are potentially protective, which means they prevent a patient from reinfection and block viral replication. That’s the outcome of infection that we want people to have."
Purdue spinout Continuity Pharma lands DARPA grant
Continuity Pharma, a company born in the halls of Purdue University, has won a $1.5 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Project (DARPA) to develop “continuous manufacturing technology.” The move by DARPA is an effort to close supply-chain gaps in critical drugs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The work will focus on drugs needed by the most critical patients in intensive care units around the U.S.
Continuous manufacturing technology allows manufacturers to process synthetic chemicals at a much smaller scale than typical drug production allows. The smaller, refrigerator-size production footprint results in the manufacture of high quality pharmaceuticals in rapid fashion, eliminating the need for large inventories. The tech also reduces U.S. dependence on generic drugs coming from China and India.
AWARE wins award to advance development of at-home lung function app
The Pitt Innovation Challenge (PinCh) recently awarded $485,000 to project teams working on developing solutions to challenging healthcare issues. One of the three top winners was the AWARE (Acoustic Waveform Respiratory Evaluation) team, led by pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Erick Forno.
AWARE, which received a $100,000 award (plus a $25,000 pandemic bonus), is a smartphone app designed to monitor lung function at home—which will be of major benefit to those who are dealing with breathing disorders such as asthma, COPD, and COVID-19.
Patients just breath into a mouthpiece normally (no expensive equipment or forced breathing required) and AWARE will use ultrasonic waves produced by the smartphone speakers to “map” their airways and spot narrowing or obstructions. The results will help patients and their doctors identify acute changes, as well as monitor lung function over the long term.
Wisconsin engineers create hands-free thermometer
Sometimes innovations don’t need to be super high-tech. Consider the hands-free thermometer invented by engineers at the University of Wisconsin’s Granger Engineering Design Innovation Lab. There, engineers took a garden-variety handheld forehead thermometer, took out the guts, added a screen, a sensor, and some open source coding, and voila: the hands-free thermometer was born.
The idea came from a COVID-era university policy requiring all students living in dorms to report their temperatures. Handheld thermometers in common spaces constantly had to be cleaned. With the hands-free thermometer, students just step up, record their temperatures, and go about their day. The device’s creators hope to add a camera to check for changes in coloring that might indicate a COVID infection.