A tool designed to detect viral history in a drop of blood has gotten an upgrade in the age of COVID-19. VirScan, a technology that can determine which of more than 1,000 different viruses have infected a person, can now also detect evidence of infection from coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. In a paper published online on September 29, 2020 in Science (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/09/28/science.abd4250), investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School (HMS) offer up a treasure trove of details about the antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 and how this response may differ in individuals who go on to have a more severe case of COVID-19. The article is titled “"Viral Epitope Profiling of COVID-19 Patients Reveals Cross-Reactivity and Correlates of Severity." This may be the deepest serological analysis of any virus in terms of resolution," said corresponding author Stephen Elledge, PhD, the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics at the Brigham and HMS. "We now understand much, much more about the antibodies generated in response to SARS-CoV-2 and how frequently they are made. The next question is, what do those antibodies do? We need to identify which antibodies have an inhibitory capacity or which, if any, may promote the virus and actually help it enter into immune cells." In their analysis, Dr. Elledge and colleagues looked in depth at antibody responses to SARS CoV-2 by using VirScan to analyze blood samples from 232 COVID-19 patients and 190 pre-COVID-19 era controls. The team identified 800 sites of the virus that the immune system can recognize, known as epitopes. Not all epitopes are created equal; some may be recognized by neutralizing antibodies, which can elicit a response that eliminates the infection.
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