Illinois Tech Researchers Involved in Nationwide Study On COVID-19 Reinfection and Antibodies

University joins other research institutions for study on duration of COVID-19 immunity

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By Jamie Loo

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CHICAGO, June 9, 2021— Illinois Tech researchers have joined a group of universities and medical research centers in a nationwide study that will examine COVID-19 infection, reinfection, and the duration of long-term antibody immunity to SARS-CoV-2.

Illinois Tech Professor of Food Science and Nutrition Indika Edirisinghe says that people who previously had a COVID-19 infection develop some antibodies to the virus but scientist don’t know how long this immunity lasts. The level and longevity of antibodies after someone receives a COVID-19 vaccination—whether previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 or not—is another unanswered question.

The Aegis study is a long-term, observational study that will track up to 2,100 participants from across the country through 2021. Participants will include a mixture of people who were infected and recovered from COVID-19, and people who have not been infected. Researchers will regularly collect blood samples from this group to check changes in antibody levels and T-cell responses, as well as various inflammatory markers.

“This is a really good opportunity for us to understand what happens to antibody levels after a vaccination,” Edirisinghe says.

Since regular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for COVID-19 will be part of the study, researchers will also be able to track those who may become re-infected SARS-CoV-2 or one of its variants. Additionally, participants will be given questionnaires about their day to day behavior related to the pandemic such as mask wearing, grocery store trips, and comfort level with airplane travel to track their attitudes over time. Edirisinghe said the data collected from this study can inform future public health approaches to quarantine periods and vaccinations.

“This is a very comprehensive protocol and has been designed in a way that it can answer multiple questions not only about the current pandemic, but possible future pandemics,” he says. “The data derived from this one is going to help us to understand how this virus behaves in our community, physically, and the human behavior component.”

Edirisinghe and Britt Burton-Freeman, professor of food science and nutrition, are the investigators for Illinois Tech. They are currently recruiting participants for the study in Chicago.

The nationwide study is led by the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. In addition to Illinois Tech, researchers from George Washington University, University of Iowa, Texas Tech, Health Awareness, Great Lakes Clinical Trials, Pennington Biomedical, Sema4, La Jolla Institute for Immunology, Attia Medical, Midwest Biomedical Research, Biofortis, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation are co-investigators and/or sites in the study. Researchers at Stanford University and New York University serve as consultants. The study is funded by philanthropic investments totaling $15 million, which includes funding from Jack Dorsey’s #StartSmall Initiative, the Chase and Stephanie Coleman Foundation, and an anonymous foundation.