Children’s antibodies to help in fight against COVID-19

The next piece of the puzzle needed to find a COVID-19 vaccine may lie in the immune systems of children and will become the focus of a new research study at Kids Research.

The study, which is being led by Associate Professor Fabienne Brilot and her Brain Autoimmunity team, will develop a test that detects antibodies in children and their level of protection against viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, to better understand how effective their bodies are at fighting off these specific infections.

A cohort of children will be tested to see whether they currently have antibodies, whether they have lots of them, and whether those antibodies are neutralising against viruses causing COVID-19.

“This is an important and exciting project, with experts in antibody detection, virology, immunology, and infectious disease collaborating to develop a comprehensive test aimed at increasing our ability to detect children with antibodies against viruses like COVID-19,” said A/Prof Brilot.

“While there are many tests on the market, antibodies against SARS-CoV2 can be present at very low levels in some patients which makes them very difficult to detect.

“We’re confident this test will be effective in capturing reliable data and paving the way forward in improved antibody detection in children,” said A/Prof Brilot.

Given the urgent need to have a better method of antibodies detection in the time of COVID-19, this crucial initiative is the underlying work which will help develop vaccines and therapies (including those against COVID-19), and sustain efforts in global immune surveillance.

Research has already begun in the adult population but this project will help drive further understanding of the immune response in children to the virus.

“Over the past few months, we have drastically improved our understanding of the immune response against COVID-19 in adults, but we are still missing important information about the immune response in children. We anticipate testing will help fill this gap and facilitate potential vaccines that protect everyone, regardless of age,” said A/Prof Brilot.

The study hopes to determine things like whether children elicit a huge response of antibodies, are likely transmitters of viruses like COVID-19 or have immune systems that can be categorised similarly to adults.

The answers to these questions may then help develop a way to share these antibodies with people fighting viruses like COVID-19 to give them some extra protection until their own immune system gets up to speed.

Samples from children have already been collected and testing will commence in mid-September.

This research project is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, A/Prof Brilot and her SCHN colleagues, Philip Britton and Peter Hsu, Daniel Catchpoole, Professor Ralph Nanan (Nepean), Prof Anthony Cunningham, Prof Sarah Palmer, Dr Kerrie Sandgren (WIRM), as well as A/Prof Stuart Turville, Professor Tony Kelleher, A/Prof Gail Matthews, Prof Gregory Dore, and Dr David Darley from The Kirby Institute at the University of NSW, Lifeblood, SydPath, and NSW Health Pathology. Early career researchers are also involved and include Drs Deepti Pilli and Fiona Tea (SCHN), and Drs Anupriyal Aggarwal and Alberto Ospina Stella (Kirby Institute).