What are antibodies? Why is developing antibody testing for COVID-19 so complicated?

Claymation video explains

There has been an emphasis put on developing widespread coronavirus (COVID-19) antibody testing as we move forward through the pandemic.

DETROIT – There has been an emphasis put on developing widespread coronavirus (COVID-19) antibody testing as we move forward through the pandemic.

Developing such testing has proved to be very challenging. Local 4′s Dr. Frank McGeorge explain exactly what antibodies are and why developing a test for them is so complicated.

READ: Gov. Whitmer signs order requiring children, workers to wear masks at Michigan childcare centers, camps

All viruses are covered with proteins that have different shapes and functions. Some of the shapes are really critical to making the virus dangerous, other’s are less essential.

The first time your body is infected by a virus that you’ve never been exposed to before, you don’t have any antibodies to help defend yourself. Luckily, there are other ways your immune system fights invaders until special antibody making cells can get to work. But that takes awhile.

There are challenges of testing for COVID-19 antibodies.

Aug. 6, 2020 -- Michigan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases up to 85,429; Death toll now at 6,247

Eventually, after a few days of infection those antibody making cells are ready and start cranking out antibodies. Antibodies are Y shaped, they have special arms that grab onto the different shapes of proteins on the surface of a virus. These surface proteins are called antigens. It’s important to understand the antibodies you make are directed at these different shaped antigens.

Some antibodies grab less important antigens on the surface of the virus, they might not neutralize the virus, but they mark it for destruction by other parts of the immune system.

Once you make antibodies against a specific antigen your body keeps some circulating around in case that invading virus shows up again. The cells that made those antibodies also keep a record, so they can make antibodies faster the next time around.

When you make antibodies, they’r really directed at specific parts of a virus. Not the entire virus. Not all antibodies are equal in strength against an invader.

Watch the video above for the full report

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.