Bonn Bonn experts are currently researching antibodies in the blood of test persons. The researchers are checking whether the test persons have already been affected by the virus and whether they might have formed antibodies. They are also investigating whether antibodies can help those suffering from a serious case of coronavirus.
Hermann S. appears jittery, tapping one leg and then the other. "I'm already nervous," confesses the craftsman from the Vorgebirge and smiles. "You never know what will come out in the end." Together with another patient, he waits that morning in a room of the Center for Blood Coagulation Disorders and Transfusion Medicine (CBT) in the north of Bonn. "After all, I am not a hero", laughs Hermann S. "I will probably survive.”
One little prick and it's all over. Now it' s just a matter of waiting. Within a few days, Johannes Kruppenbacher's team will know whether Hermann S. has Covid-19 antibodies. "We only need a small amount of blood for this," explains the physician. The CBT has been offering these tests since the end of March. So far, 1,720 people have been tested. "In 51 of them we were able to detect the corresponding antibodies," he reports. This translates into a value of around three percent.
5,000 participants of the "Rhineland Study" to be tested
The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) is asking the approximate 5,000 participants of the well-known "Rhineland Study" to take a blood test. The mass screening should show how many of them have already been infected with the coronavirus and whether they developed mild, severe or no symptoms whatsoever. "The willingness is enormous", says Sabine Hoffmann from the DZNE. "We didn't have to do any persuasion." The blood samples are being collected during this time, "The results will be available in mid-July," she adds. The blood test is free of charge and the results are communicated to all study participants.
The DZNE cooperates closely with the team of Christian Drosten from the Institute of Virology at the Charité in Berlin. By comparing these new findings with previously gathered data on health, lifestyle and immune status, most of which were already collected in the course of the "Rhineland Study", the researchers hope to gain new insights into the pathogen and how health factors affect coronavirus infection. "This may contribute to the development of prevention measures and therapies," explains Monique Breteler, head of the "Rhineland Study". She had the idea to use the data collected so far in the fight against coronavirus.
Some people are more resistant than others
"Why some people are resistant to this virus and others are not, is an unsolved question. Preexisting conditions may play a role. However, it is largely unclear in detail," said Breteler. She assumes that among the study participants there are recovered patients who were diagnosed with coronavirus at the time they had it. At the same time, however, the study would also "track down" those who had not developed any symptoms despite being infected. "In six months' time, we plan to conduct a follow-up examination to find out how the number of people with antibodies has developed by then," she adds.
At the Center for Blood Coagulation Disorders and Transfusion Medicine, all persons aged 14 years and older can currently have an antibody test. "With one exception", reports Johannes Kruppenbacher. "We tested a whole family, but excluded one of the children because the child was only ten years old." But when antibodies were detected in the parents, the youngest of the family was also tested.
His patients have to answer some questions before the blood sample is taken. "We want to know whether they have had typical symptoms of an infection recently or whether they have been away from home," said Kruppenbacher describing the procedure. "The results are available after one week at the latest," confirms laboratory manager Philipp Westhofen.
60 patients come each day for testing
Around 60 patients come to CTB every day for screening. Many of them hope for a positive test result. This way, they can be sure that they will not infect relatives in need of care and older family members because they are already immune. Hermann S. also relies on this: "My mother is over 90 years old and lives with us. I do not want to endanger her unnecessarily.”
The costs for a test at the CTB are usually covered by health insurance companies, as they are carried out in consultation with general practitioners. But there are exceptions. "We tested the employees of a company that mostly works with businesses abroad. Such business travel attestations are naturally at the expense of the company," says Kruppenbacher.
If antibodies are detected in a patient, the institute is obliged to pass this on to the local health authorities. "Our antibody tests also serve to support the diagnosis of a SARS-CoV-2 infection and are a supplement to direct detection. In addition, the serology can be used to collect epidemiological data, which is of particular interest in the case of the virtually unexplored SARS-CoV-2," says laboratory manager Westhofen.
Scientists now assume that antibodies from the blood of those recovering from the illness can save patients who have severe cases. The University Hospital in Bonn produces the necessary convalescent plasma for this purpose. "There are no approved drugs to treat Covid-19 patients with severe cases. We are virtually empty-handed," says Christian Putensen, head of Operative Intensive Care Medicine at the University Hospital, describing the motivation to initiate the production of recovery plasma together with the blood donation service. A donation of blood plasma takes about 45 minutes.
"The willingness to help is overwhelming"
"The willingness to help is overwhelming," said Johannes Oldenburg, Director of the Institute for Experimental Hematology and Transfusion Medicine at the University Hospital, describing the initial experiences. Within a very short time, several hundred donors had registered with the blood donation service to help seriously ill people by donating their plasma. "Each person is checked to see whether he or she is suitable as a donor," says Heiko Rühl, senior physician at the Bonn University Institute for Experimental Hematology and Transfusion Medicine, commenting on the procedure.
After more than two months, Kruppenbacher of the CTB Institute concludes "Our results show that the population was not infected to any large extent. For me there is no reason to panic. Especially since we don't know how long protection from antibodies will last," he says. Kruppenbacher believes that it will only be possible to be certain once a suitable vaccine has been approved.
MORE ABOUT THE CBT
CBT has 35 years of experience
The CBT Group maintains locations in Bonn, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and Wuppertal with affiliated laboratories and the blood bank Rheinland. For more than 35 years analytical diagnostics and medical treatment have been combined there. Priority is given to blood tests in the context of fertility treatments and thrombosis diseases. The CBT team provides support in analytical diagnosis. The facility works with more than 1,500 doctors.
Orig. text: Gabriel Immenkeppel - Translation: ck