Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Scientists to develop antibody fingerprint serology test in fight against COVID-19

LifeArc and Medical Research Scotland have recently awarded funding to a multidisciplinary cross-College research team for a new project called TEST-COVID: July 2020

Three-dimensional structure of the coronavirus 'spike' protein
Three-dimensional structure of the coronavirus 'spike' protein with potentially immunogenic patches utilised by the assay shown in red

An innovative collaboration is bringing together leading scientists from the University of Edinburgh’s Colleges of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and Science and Engineering to develop an ‘antibody fingerprint’ serology test which will report on a person’s exposure to COVID-19 and their likelihood of developing the disease.

This differs from the PCR-based approach to testing which identifies individuals who have been infected.

The novel approach to developing this test is the pipeline for understanding the 3D structure of proteins, expertise which will be used to identify high likelihood immunogenic peptides.

Once the test is developed it has the potential to stratify individuals based upon SARS-CoV-2 exposure and control and monitor recurrent outbreaks, while providing immunology and epidemiology data and assessing future resistance to disease.

It also has the potential to provide a basis for ‘immunity passports’ and to monitor the effectiveness of vaccines which may become available in the future.

It is hoped the project could possibly provide a basis for a commercially viable serology test for global use.

The team will work with the Genome Foundry and the Protein Production Facility at the School of Biological Sciences and will bring together leading expertise in protein computer modelling, molecular biology, gene engineering, high-throughput synthesis, immunology and chemistry.

The project is a collaboration between the MRC Human Genetics Unit and the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine at the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Chemistry.

We’re delighted to receive funding from LifeArc and Medical Research Scotland for this crucial project. Innovative research has cross-disciplinary science at its heart, and we hope that together as a University-wide team we can make a significant contribution to the global fight against COVID-19.

Nick GilbertProfessor of Chromatin Biology, MRC Human Genetics Unit