UI Health Care adds antibody testing capability

University of Iowa Health Care now has in-house capability to conduct highly accurate serology (antibody) testing for COVID-19. These tests detect the presence of antibodies to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and can be used to determine whether a person has had COVID-19.

The addition of serology testing complements UI Health Care’s already robust testing capabilities for the diagnosis and tracking of COVID-19. Serology testing results may be used to improve clinical care for patients who have had COVID-19 and further expand research on how the disease spreads and who is most at risk.

Serology testing is often used as an initial screen to detect the presence of antibodies in donated plasma. The testing can also be used to survey specific groups of people to determine what proportion has been infected. These serosurveys are useful for studying the prevalence of COVID-19 in a community or group.

Because it takes one to three weeks after the initial infection for antibodies to develop, serology tests are not used to diagnose someone who was recently infected or has just started to show illness.

“The test can show if a person has antibodies, which tells us that they were exposed to the virus and had COVID at some point,” says Matthew Krasowski, MD, PhD, vice chair for Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Services with UI Health Care. “However, it’s important to note that we don’t yet know if antibodies will provide protective immunity against COVID-19.”

The serology testing will be run using two commercially available, recently FDA-approved testing platforms: from DiaSorin and Roche. These testing platforms were chosen for their high degree of accuracy. Krasowski’s team has also completed a thorough validation of the tests’ performance.

Making sure the tests have very high levels of specificity (over 99%) helps to minimize the number of false positive tests.  All samples that are positive by one method are tested by the other method to further lower risk of false positive results.

Physicians with UI Health Care will be able to order the test, which involves collecting a blood sample that is then sent to the laboratory. The testing is fully automated and can run at least 300 samples per day with the results available that same day, often within one hour of the sample arriving in the laboratory. Krasowski estimates that the lab will initially have capacity to run about 2,000 tests in total with more becoming available as the companies produce more testing supplies.

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