Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The new easy-to-produce test detects coronavirus spike-protein binding antibodies in people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Covid Testing

An international research team led by Oxford University scientists has developed a portable test for antibodies that fight the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The test, which spots the presence of virus-fighting antibodies rather than a coronavirus infection, can be adapted to work on blood from a finger prick – making it quick and easy to use. The research team, which includes scientists from Taiwan, India, Thailand and France, as well as UK university and NHS researchers, trialled the test on patients with COVID-19, but now hope to adapt it to identify those who have successfully generated antibodies after a vaccine, versus those who may need a booster.

The scientists also hope that the large-scale use of their tests might help researchers and policy-makers track levels of protective immunity in the community.

Antibodies are large proteins that lock onto and help the body’s immune system fight off disease-causing organisms, such as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Both infection with the virus and vaccines can generate antibodies.

There are already several commercial tests, which can detect whether someone has antibodies against the novel coronavirus, but these tests are expensive and usually need a central laboratory to analyse them. This is especially a problem in low-income countries.

Study lead Professor Alain Townsend from the MRC Human Immunology Unit at Oxford University said: 'Our test is very cheap to produce, so we are using existing funding from charitable donations to offer 10 million tests for research purposes to countries that cannot support very high-tech solutions.'

The test relies on linking a part of the viral spike protein to the surface of red blood cells. When antibodies to the virus are present they create a clump of red blood cells. This clump is big enough to be seen by eye.

Covid antibody test

The test also does not require any special equipment or take a long time to show the results, and is accurate: “It correctly identifies coronavirus spike protein antibodies 90% of the time, with less than a 1% false positive rate.”

Professor Townsend said: “All we need to do is mix a low-cost reagent with a small blood sample, and the clumping of the red cells after one hour shows whether the blood sample contained antibodies against the novel coronavirus or not.”

The Townsend-Jeantet charitable trust, run by Professor Townsend, will fund the production of sufficient reagent for 10 million test wells by an Oxford company Absolute Antibody.

Professor Townsend said: “We are already distributing our test reagent to researchers who need them anywhere in the world, free of charge. So far, we supplied our tests to researchers in twenty-one different countries, with major studies using our antibody test in Norway, Colombia, Taiwan and Sri Lanka.”

The team have also developed new versions of the reagent that that can test for antibodies to the new variant viruses through a recent generous donation from a local donor.

For ease of use so that the tests can be carried out in a variety of locations, even in your own home. The researchers note that they can be adapted to work using blood from a finger prick sample. They now plan to use this very simple test in future trials to see if it can identify those who are protected against COVID-19 from those who may need a booster vaccination.

Professor Alison Simmons, Director of the MRC Human Immunology Unit at Oxford University, said: “This study and the research developments by the team are a very valuable asset to our toolbox in our fight against the novel coronavirus. With better ways of testing antibody levels and understanding immune defences of individuals and across populations, we increasingly take steps towards being able to protect more people globally and control spread of the virus.”

Similar stories

The RECOVERY Trial: One year on

News

Thanks to the ground-breaking work of RECOVERY, clinicians treating patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19 now have two treatments that are known to improve survival. From having no known effective drugs when the pandemic first erupted, patients are now offered treatments that have been robustly proven to reduce death and improve other outcomes, such as the length of hospital stay and the need for mechanical ventilation.

USA, Chile and Peru interim trial data show Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and highly effective

News

A Phase III study of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine conducted by AstraZeneca plc in the USA, Chile and Peru has shown that vaccine is safe and highly effective, adding to previous trial data from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, as well as real-world impact data from the United Kingdom.

Professor Cecilia Lindgren appointed Director of the Big Data Institute

News

Professor Cecilia Lindgren has been appointed as the new Director of the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute. Professor Lindgren will take up post on 1 April 2021. She succeeds Professor Gil McVean who was the founding director of the BDI, and Interim Director, Professor Martin Landray.

Professor Sarah Gilbert awarded RSA Albert Medal

News

NDM's Professor Sarah Gilbert has been awarded the Royal Society for Arts’ (RSA) Albert Medal for her work on the Oxford vaccine. Professor Gilbert is Professor of Vaccinology and the Oxford Project Leader for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, SARSCoV-2, with approval for use in many countries around the world.

World’s largest clinical trial for COVID-19 treatments expands internationally

News

The Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) Trial, the world’s largest clinical trial for COVID-19 treatments, has now expanded internationally with Indonesia and Nepal among the first countries to join and recruited to RECOVERY International. NDM's Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health, and Joint Chief Investigator for the trial, said ‘The RECOVERY trial has been an enormous success, enrolling over 36,000 patients and delivering clear results on six treatments already. By building on this success through international partnership we can speed up the assessment of novel treatments, increase the global relevance of the trial results, build capacity, and reduce wasted efforts on small uninformative studies".

Exscientia and the University of Oxford announce partnership to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s disease

News

Exscientia, the leading AI Drug Discovery company, has today announced its collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute (ARUK-ODDI) to develop medicines targeting neuroinflammation for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).