A new test for detecting Covid antibodies developed in under a year by scientists at Aberdeen University has been found to be more than 99% accurate.
The test, named the Universal EpitoGen test, is designed to stay just as effective in detecting the antibody response to different variants – meaning it could be used to estimate how widely the recently identified Omicron variant is spreading.
It can also tell a person’s long-term immunity to the virus, and whether that immunity came from exposure or from a vaccine.
The team of scientists was led by Professor Mirela Delibegovic from the university, and joined forces with industry partners Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd and NHS Grampian on the project.
Testing by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) found the Universal Epitogen test detected antibody responses in patient samples with more than 99.5% accuracy and 98.5% specificity.
‘A game-changing technology’
Prof Delibegovic called the results of the accuracy assessment, which would outperform existing Covid tests, “extremely exciting”.
She said: “I would call this, really, a game-changing technology.
“What we’ve been able to do is use artificial intelligence to develop a platform to have not just one single thing in our antibody test but five different things.
“Then we can change them depending on the variants that are coming along, and that’s something that other people, to our knowledge, have not been able to do so far.”
She said in less than 12 months they had both developed the test and shown it can be deployed to mass populations, and work is already underway to see how they may be rolled out in the NHS.
Dr Tiehui Wang, Director of Biologics at Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd, added: “As well as Covid-19, the EpitoGen platform can be used for the development of highly sensitive and specific diagnostic tests for infectious and auto-immune diseases such as Lyme Disease and Type 1 Diabetes.
“The team are now working on development of these in parallel to work on Covid-19.”‘
A number of other tests are also currently in development by the team, including some that can assess the effectiveness of vaccines against new mutations.
The project has been funded by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office Rapid Response in Covid-19 (RARC-19) research programme.