SCHN's Spikies helping shape our understanding of COVID-19

Research into COVID-19 is truly a global effort, with advances made by leading scientists helping drive our pandemic response.

The Brain Autoimmunity group from the Kids Neuroscience Centre have been helping lead the charge, with some of the team adapting their research to help detect the antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 proteins, such as Spike, from individuals who have been infected with COVID-19.

This research resulted in the development of the 'Spikies' - a nickname for the group undertaking this important work.

“We like to keep our meetings light hearted and Fabienne Brilot is very creative at coming up with cool nicknames for us. Since our work is largely focused on the Spike protein, given it’s the dominant target of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, the nickname ‘Spikies’ came about one day during a meeting. We all just went along with it, and it has stuck ever since,” the team said.

Alongside the team from the Kirby Institute, the ‘Spikies’ have examined the protective antibody response towards proteins in the COVID-19 virus and emerging variants of concern.

They found that some individuals have incredibly strong and robust antibody responses against the virus, and these ‘super donors’ would be ideal for plasmapheresis treatment for individuals who can’t generate sufficient immunity to fight the virus. Their work also highlights the urgent need for serosurveillance and its importance in monitoring vaccine effectiveness, and guiding vaccine development and design.

The team of research assistants and postdoctoral fellows have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to generate some exciting data, providing experts with a greater understanding of the immune system’s response to emerging variants of concern and future COVID infections.

“We are all glad the work is finally out there since it sends a very important message about viral immune evasion and the importance of antibody detection to monitor immune protection and vaccine effectiveness,” they said. 

The Spikies were also involved in a large research project aiming to create a better COVID test.

“Research in the COVID field is incredibly fast moving. We are learning so much, at an incredibly rapid pace,"

Given the ever-changing SARS-CoV-2 virus and its ability to mutate and evade the immune system, we must be up to date with novel emerging variants which is an inevitable challenge now faced by many researchers. Luckily, we work alongside and collaborate with colleagues from fields like virology and genomics, to maintain the relevance of our research," they said.

Thousands of children across NSW have been cared for and supported by SCHN during the COVID-19 pandemic, and research being undertaken by teams like the Spikies across the Network has potential to impact millions all over the world by helping shape our understanding of, and response to, COVID-19.