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Richmond researcher spearheads development of COVID-19 antibody test

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Posted at 10:08 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 22:34:00-04

As the COVID crisis continues to loom researcher Dr. Rebecca Caffrey of Richmond is working to stem the tide.

“While we can’t diagnose them right now with the antibody test, we would be able to see where the virus had been and have a better idea of how big the epidemic is,” said Caffrey.

Caffrey has been spending most of her days at the diagnostic lab Granger Genetics in Richmond where they’re developing an antibody blood test to tell if your body has had the virus.

To validate the accuracy of the test, Caffrey needed a lot of samples.

“They don’t have any samples,” she said. “There was no government agency or private organization I could go to and get the blood samples to validate this test, so we had to take matters into our own hands.”

For the past week, Caffrey has been traveling across the state collecting more than 200 blood samples from volunteers confirmed to be COVID-19 positive or negative.

Most of her donations came from patients and staff at Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Richmond. The center had an outbreak of more than 45 fatal cases.

“We owe them a lot,” Caffrey said.

Caffrey said the blood test is more reliable. Her findings show six of the 10 staff members had false negatives from the nasal swab tests and had in fact been exposed to the virus.

“I’m finding between 40 and 60 percent of people who have tested negative by the nasal swab have antibodies. They’re positive,” said Caffrey.

Antibodies from people who have recovered from COVID could be key to fighting the virus. That is why Gwen Sarsfield, 70, donated her blood to Caffrey.

I knew I could donate platelets and that could be useful to research and someone else overcome disease,” said Sarsfield.
Sarsfield believes she was infected while on an overseas cruise in December, well before reports of the novel disease surfaced in the U.S.

“There was no mistaking that I had it,” she said. “I had a very severe, dry cough and terrible chest congestion. It was completely devastating, and it lasted so long.”

According to Caffrey, doctors will be able to order the antibody test on Monday.

Caffrey is warning about fraudulent and illegal antibody test kits that could give people inaccurate results. She said if you get tested at a diagnostic center, be sure to ask what brand the kit is, who manufactures it, and if it’s been FDA approved. If they can’t answer those questions, you may not want to use that test.