A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has secured funding of £370,000 to develop a Covid-19 diagnostic test.
The funding was awarded by the National Institute for Health Research, a government agency, to expand the list of available antibody tests.
The move comes at a time when the Cambridge research team have identified a ‘biomarker’ that can help identify long Covid cases through a blood test.
Long Covid refers to a condition where individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 continue to exhibit symptoms for several months. People who were initially asymptomatic can also experience long Covid.
In a pilot programme, the research team recruited 85 patients and collected their blood samples when they were first diagnosed and at regular intervals over several months.
After an initial assessment, the team identified a biological fingerprint (biomarker) in the blood of patients who had contracted Covid-19.
This biomarker is a molecule called cytokine, which is produced by T cells in response to infection and remains present in the blood for a long time.
University of Cambridge department of medicine member and research team co-leader Dr Mark Wills, said: “We need a reliable and objective way of saying whether someone has had Covid-19. Antibodies are one sign we look for, but not everyone makes a very strong response and this can wane over time and become undetectable.
“We’ve identified a cytokine that is also produced in response to infection by T cells and is likely to be detectable for several months – and potentially years – following infection. We believe this will help us develop a much more reliable diagnostic for those individuals who did not get a diagnosis at the time of infection.”
The study also identified a particular biomarker in patients with long Covid. The findings indicate that patients with long Covid produce a second type of cytokine. This discovery may help in the development of a test for diagnosing long Covid.
The team now plans to expand their cohort to 500 patients. The expansion will help in optimising the tests to enable use at clinical diagnostic labs.
Last month, another research team from the University of Cambridge developed a spinal implant to treat severe pain.