[Left to right: Juliana Gonçalves and Helena Soares]
Juliana Gonçalves, PhD student from the Human Immunobiology and Pathogenesis Lab led by Helena Soares, published an article in the journal Frontiers in Medicine entitled "Evaluating SARS-CoV-2 Seroconversion Following Relieve of Confinement Measures " (full article here).
In brief, Helena Soares talks about this article:
Can you explain the context in which the research described in your publication arose?
During the first COVID-19 confinement, in March 2020, Juliana - first author of the paper - and I thought that we could apply the expertise in Human immunology of the lab and put it at the service of the community. At that time, I joined the Serology4COVID consortium, and under this umbrella we started to customize a serology assay to detect the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 exposure in the population.
What is the main discovery of this work?
After customizing the serology assay to detect the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 prevalence, that is the percentage of people who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2, having developed or not symptons, at the end of the first confinement we applied the serology assay to the community of NOVA university. We did this by identifying the people that had, in their blood, antibodies against a protein of SARS-CoV-2 that is called spike.
This work provided us with the information of SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in NOVA community, and, importantly it gave us insight into the efficacy of the confinement measures.
Why is this important?
COVID-19 diagnostic testing is important to accurately detect SARS-CoV-2 infection. Nonetheless, it only gives us a picture of the infections levels at a given moment. To have a cumulative perspective of past and current SARS-CoV-2 infections, we need to perform serological assays. This is even more important for SARS-CoV-2 infection since a significant proportion of infections are asymptomatic and therefore unlikely to be completely accounted for through diagnostic testing. As I mentioned above, this work also provided us insight into the efficacy of confinement measures. In our study we observed that the schools closer associated with hospitals (Nova Medical School and IHMT) were the ones with higher prevalence of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, which could be easily explained by the fact that both schools employ medical doctors, whom were both at a higher risk of exposure and were exempt from the confinement.
What questions remain to be asked and will it continue?
In this work, we customized a highly sensible and specific serological assay to test for SARS-CoV-2 exposure. We are now further exploring it to dissect COVID-19 disease course in specific population groups and also as a measure of vaccine response in health care workers.
How does this work resemble and/or differs from the research carried out in your Lab? Was it most challenging or most rewarding?
This work results from the lab expertise and interest in human disease. It is different because it added an extra layer of communal service. Usually, we perform hypothesis-driven research and our goal is to unravel mechanisms of disease in patients so that we can help to find ways to better treat and/or diagnose them. In this instance, our main drive was to provide a communal service and an effective tool to allow for a serological survey.