US-based medical devices and health care company, Abbott Laboratories, has launched a new antibody test that can tell if a person has had the coronavirus infection and if their body has developed antibodies against COVID-19.

The test, which is the third novel coronavirus test from the company—after its 'm2000 molecular laboratory system' and 'ID NOW molecular point-of-care device'—can detect the antibody Immunoglobulin G (IgG) produced by the body against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Emphasisng the potential of the new antibody test, John Hackett, divisional vice president of Applied Research and Technology, Diagnostics, Abbott, said in a statement, "Antibody testing has the potential to unlock a lot of unknowns about this novel virus."

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Molecular tests Vs. Antibody tests

A molecular test helps in detecting whether an individual has the coronavirus or not. For example, the Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), which is widely being used to test people for the coronavirus, is a molecular test.

However, an antibody test, which is also known as a serology test, helps in ascertaining if someone has been infected previously. An antibody is a protein produced by the blood plasma that is used by the immune system to combat pathogens invading the body and causing an infection. It is usually manufactured during the later stages of an infection and can remain in the body for several months, and possibly years after a person's recovery.

The new test by Abbot recognizes the IgG antibody. In the case of COVID-19, it can be immensely beneficial in understanding the antibody mechanism in asymptomatic carriers who may not manifest symptoms of the diseases at all.

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SARS-CoV-2 Pixabay

Key to developing future treatment

The advantage of an antibody test such as the one in question is that it can help scientists understand the behaviour of these proteins. Knowledge about the duration for which antibodies stay in the body, and if immunity is bolstered by their presence, can aid scientists in the development of vaccines and treatments against COVID-19.

Such data can also enable public health officials to comprehend the extent of the outbreak. "Having tests that can work in different healthcare settings is critical to our understanding of the virus and to helping give healthcare providers answers they need about their patients," said Hackett.

Aiding healthcare workers

The test will initially be available on Abbott's laboratory instruments that are already in use across several hospitals in the US — ARCHITECT i1000SR and i2000SR. These implements can carry out up to 100-200 tests per hour.

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SARS-CoV-2 Wikimedia Commons

Talking about arming medical workers and authorities with this new testing mechanism, Robert B. Ford, president and chief executive officer, Abbott, said: "I'm extremely proud of the many Abbott people who are working around the clock to get as many tests as we can to healthcare workers and patients."

According to a statement by the company, 1 million tests are expected to ship to US customers this week, with a total of 4 million tests set to be shipped in April. Abbot is also working towards increasing its output to over 20 million tests in the US in June. Additionally, the new test will be a part of its new 'Alinity i system'. Testing that identifies another antibody, Immunoglobulin M (IgM), which is produced immediately after an infection, is also said to be in works.