Mid-South lab working non-stop to develop new coronavirus antibody testing

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Did you know there are tests you can take to see if you’re immune or vulnerable to the coronavirus?

FOX13 spoke with doctors and scientists who are investigating our bodies’ ability to fight off COVID-19 and working on a test that could indicate if we are either possibly immune or still vulnerable. They are called antibody tests.

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FOX 13 gained exclusive access to a lab at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center that works on a new antibody test that can save lives.

The blood test can detect who among us have dueled with COVID-19 and won.

People such as 5th grade English teacher David Jamison, known as the “Dope Educator” for his unique handshakes with students. Jamison contracted the virus at the end of March.

"It was a very traumatic experience,” Jamison said. “It didn’t know how I got it.”

Jamison’s body now has a stronger immune system with an antibody that should protect him from getting the virus again.

Jamison still carries the anxiety from the virus.

“Just because they said it’s okay,” Jamison said. “How do I know."

Dr. Maria Gomes-Solecki conducts research at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Dr. Gomes-Solecki said if antibody research proves to be true, then some people “are free to go about their business without being concerned of being infected again.”

A blood test can identify a COVID-19 antibody and whether a person who has it might be either protected or still at risk.

She told FOX13 there is a shortage of FDA tests with higher accuracy, and those not approved carry a potential risk.

“The danger is the results will be wrong one way or another,” she said. “It could tell you were positive when you're not. He could tell you you're negative when you're positive.”

The associate professor heads a team of researchers who work with local hospitals to create their own accurate COVID-19 antibody test.

Blood samples of local pandemic survivors are tested to see if the lab can flag the antibody correctly. If their procedure passes government standards and scientific review, then it can help health officials decide when to reopen society more, test doctors and nurses in hospitals at the greatest risk for exposure.

“We feel the urgency of this problem,” Dr. Gomes-Solecki said.

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FOX13 Investigates asked Dr. Gomes-Solecki her response to people who want an accurate antibody test now.

“People need to be patient,” she said. “You know, I am sorry to say, research these things cannot be done in a day.”

We learned the process could take months. Final FDA approval for widespread use may not come until next year, which depends on supplies and chemicals.

The UTHSC researchers know their experiments must produce a test that has to be correct without error to help find those who among us might be able to withstand the pandemic’s anticipated second wave.

"So people will have to bear with us and then be a little patient and trust us. Trust us that we know what we're doing,” Dr. Gomes-Solecki said.

“The Dope Educator” is willing to trust but waiting is a challenge for him. Jamison said he wants to get back to teaching with some assurances he won’t endanger his students.

"We need to let the doctors do whatever they need to do make sure the test is accurate as possible,” Jamison said.

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