FIA Foundation COVID-19 solidarity fund supports Johns Hopkins antibody testing

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Testing will be conducted by the Bloomberg School of Public Health team at home rather than in a clinical setting to access a greater number of people.
Testing will be conducted by the Bloomberg School of Public Health team at home rather than in a clinical setting to access a greater number of people.

A new COVID-19 programme to examine urban disease control and map population exposure through at-home testing is being conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US city of Baltimore, thanks to €200,000 in special funding from the FIA Foundation to support community collaboration in combatting coronavirus (C-FORWARD).

The study will evaluate the spread of the disease at a population level by developing tests for COVID-19 antibodies detectable in residents’ saliva – revealing whether they may have been exposed to the disease even if they haven’t had symptoms. Until now, COVID-19 testing has been performed primarily on individuals with symptoms and largely in clinical settings. This study will rigorously sample households in Baltimore neighborhoods to provide estimates which accurately reflect what is happening in the population. Using a mobile van for field-based sample collection, the team will increase study participation to maximize the impact and broaden the scope of research findings. The longer-term goal is to facilitate at-home testing with accurate tests that can easily be done through simple collection of saliva.

Saliva testing has been successful in diagnosing other infectious diseases, including norovirus, influenza, and measles. The research goal is to develop, validate and broadly-apply tests for sensitive, specific, and rapid detection of immunoglobulin antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 – the severe acute respiratory syndrome which causes COVID-19 - which could be implemented relatively quickly and easily if proven effective. The team anticipates partnering with other academic and industry leaders to develop scalable, in-home antibody detection kits.

By surveying a random selection of Baltimore City residents, researchers will determine the impact of COVID-19 preventive measures adopted by individuals as well as assess other socioeconomic and health factors, including mental health. The study’s evaluation of disease prevalence, control practices, and impact at the household level will provide critical information about transmission, natural history, and control efforts at the population level.

The research effort will be led by epidemiology specialist and Vice Dean for Research at the Bloomberg School, Gregory Kirk, MD, PhD, and Christopher Heaney, PhD, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering and Director of the Johns Hopkins Environmental Health Microbiology and Immunology Laboratory (EHMIL).

Ellen MacKenzie, Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: “ We are grateful for the continued support of the FIA Foundation which is funding this novel research in unprecedented times. Their dedication to the wider field of public health, beyond safe and sustainable mobility, is emblematic of their commitment to the fight for safer and healthier futures for all.”

Natalie Draisin, Director, North American Office and UN Representative of the FIA Foundation, said: “This funding is part of the FIA Foundation’s series of international solidarity grants to respond to COVID-19. We are proud to support the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a long-term partner for our mobility work, in this new study which has the potential to revolutionize how we understand and control the spread of this pandemic.”