Research Roundup: A pooled testing algorithm, synthetic nanobody treatment, and a continent-wide COVID-19 antibody study in Africa
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Researchers in Rwanda, amid insufficient COVID-19 testing capacity, have created an algorithm to maximize the efficiency of pooled testing—the method of testing batches of samples first, followed by individual sample testing if a batch test comes back positive. Instead of retesting every individual sample after a batch test comes back positive, the new algorithm indicates a way to create and overlap smaller groups from the batch that will lead to identification of the positive samples. While the complexity of the method is of concern to some researchers, the approach also shows potential to be an important tool for resource-limited settings battling the COVID-19 pandemic, given the reduction in total number of required retests and the speed of results. The algorithm is currently being developed into a software that can be used by lab technicians to minimize human error.
A research team at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), synthesized an anti-coronavirus compound similar to an infection-fighting antibody found in llamas, alpacas, and other camelids. The molecule, a type of nanobody, is among the most potent compounds for fighting COVID-19 identified in lab tests to date, according to the researchers, although it has yet to go through animal studies or human clinical trials. Nanobodies are about a quarter of the size of most antibodies, and work by nestling into small spaces in proteins and blocking viruses from attaching to and infecting cells. The nanobody made in the UCSF lab is stable enough to be converted into a dry powder and aerosolized, with potential to be self-administered by simple inhaled sprays to the nose and lungs. The researchers have published their lab results in a preprinted, non-peer reviewed paper and are in the process of finding a partner to assist in clinical testing, manufacturing, and distributing the compound.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Thursday the launch of a continent-wide study of COVID-19 antibodies, after a smaller study and testimony from global health experts indicated that current official numbers might be underestimating infection and death rates. With a median age of 19, Africa’s young population might be indicative of high levels of asymptomatic infection. The study, to begin in the upcoming weeks, will include all countries in Africa, likely starting with Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Morocco. The continent surpassed 1 million confirmed cases on August 7, with more than 24,000 deaths recorded.