New U-M study to examine COVID-19 reinfection risks

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York's Long Island. Wide scale testing is a critical part of tracking and containing infectious diseases. But the U.S. effort has been plagued by a series of missteps, including accuracy problems with the test kits the CDC sent to other labs and bureaucratic hurdles that slowed the entrance of large, private sector labs. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (John Minchillo, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ANN ARBOR – A new study at the University of Michigan hopes to learn how much protection is afforded by natural infection with the coronavirus.

Researchers leading the Immunity Associated with SARS-CoV-2 study are looking to enroll 5,000 U-M employees, including essential workers, first responders and those who work regularly on campus.

The study hopes to examine the immunological response and risk factors to infection. To do this, they will be examining how long detectable antibodies against COVID-19 remain in a person’s system following infection as well as analyzing T-cells.

“Basically we want to answer the question of if you’ve had SARS-COV-2 or been exposed to before, can you get it again? And if you can get it again, what does that infection look like?” Aubree Gordon, associate professor of epidemiology at U-M’s School of Public Health, who is leading the project along with pathologist Riccardo Valdez from Michigan Medicine, said in a statement.

“Maybe you can get infected again, but you don’t really get sick and you don’t shed virus. Maybe you don’t get sick but can transmit the virus. And then, of course, there’s the possibility that it doesn’t protect or that the protection period is limited.”

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As correlates of protection against viruses, antibodies and T-cells are important for vaccine development and production, Gordon said. Both are used to determine the effectiveness of a new vaccine.

“Thus, it is very important that we identify correlates of protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection to aid in SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development and monitoring,” Gordon said in a statement.

The researchers plan on following its subjects for at least a year and will be collecting blood samples every other month to test for coronavirus antibodies.

Results will be sent to participants throughout the study since it will use U-M pathology labs for the majority of serological testing.

“Our clinical laboratories are excited to provide the testing and lab medicine expertise for this study aimed to help answer important outstanding questions about the durability of our immune response to COVID-19 infection,” Valdez said in a statement. “The studies we performed while validating our clinical serology tests showed that people do produce antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 after infection, and this study will now provide information on the longevity of that response in a much larger cohort of individuals.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.