Funding: Research into blood testing for antibody-virus complexes receives federal COVID-19 grant

In the fight to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, reliable research surrounding COVID-19 immunity and the highly variable outcome of infection is crucial to understanding how to treat and prevent the virus.

To encourage this research, the Canadian government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), has approved funding for 22 laboratory studies across Canada. Among those selected is a research project from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, led by Ryan Troyer, PhD. 

Troyer’s research investigates Antibody Dependent Enhancement (ADE), a phenomenon where an incoming virus binds itself to suboptimal antibodies to infiltrate the host cells and replicate itself more efficiently. These antibody-virus complexes can facilitate enhanced virus infection and release damaging inflammatory molecules.  

“ADE often exacerbates disease and is a major challenge for prevention of viral disease by vaccination,” explained Ryan Troyer, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

“ADE has been demonstrated for several human and animal coronaviruses, so there is concern that it may increase COVID-19 disease under certain conditions during natural infection or following vaccination.”

The objective of the study is to develop a human blood test which will detect Antibody Dependent Enhancement of SARS-CoV-2, allowing physicians and scientists to test whether antibodies an individual produce in response to natural infection or vaccination may predispose them to ADE.

Troyer hopes the test will help physicians predict disease severity in the newly infected and help inform their treatment. The test could also be applied in vaccine development to assess the immune response the potential vaccine induces.

“Developing a test for ADE and understanding the role that it may play in COVID-19 disease will be critical to assure that newly developed vaccines induce protective rather than disease-enhancing responses,” Troyer said.

The project will be receiving just over $150,000 in funding thanks to the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and the CIHR.

“CIHR is pleased to have been able to collaborate with CITF to ensure we continue to provide the best evidence possible to manager the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Michael Strong, President of CIHR.

“By providing a more precise picture of immunity in the country and by collaborating within networks, Canadian researchers will continue to make important contributions to understanding and responding to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”