Research into MS has led to some fantastic discoveries with applications beyond MS. In the last couple of decades, we have gone from having one or two medications to having 15 medications for the treatment of MS. These medications now even include highly specific monoclonal antibodies as treatments, which have been important in treating MS (learn more about monoclonal antibodies here). During treatment development, there have been speed bumps and technical hurdles that have been overcome with new technologies – some of which might be useful in the COVID-19 pandemic.
MS researchers at the Queen Mary University of London have adapted technology previously developed to detect antibodies that potentially can block MS medications, to instead detect antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The researchers first developed this technology to detect if the immune system of an individual has developed “immunity” against alemtuzumab a medication used to treat MS. Alemtuzumab is a monoclonal antibody that targets T and B cells – essential immune cells that are strong contributors to MS. However, the effectiveness of this medication can be limited by the immune system raising antibodies against the treatment. The technology detects the antibodies that block alemtuzumab and allows neurologists to find out if this is happening in an individual so they can switch medications before any treatment may not successfully prevent a relapse.
By adapting this advanced technology, the researchers have developed an ultrasensitive coronavirus antibody test. This test aims to identify whether someone has been infected with coronavirus and can detect the presence of an infection (past or present) from just a drop of blood.
Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London are crowdfunding an initial study on 3,000 people in the UK with MS. The data from this study will tell them how the coronavirus has infected people with MS and whether or not their treatments have an immune response to the virus.
Scientists will use information from this study to plan for future coronavirus vaccine studies in people with MS on disease-modifying therapies. This study is novel in both its research and funding approach due to the time sensitivities and the reduced funding options in the current COVID-19 environment.
The ultimate goal of this study is to develop a method where blood drops can be posted to a central location to be tested. As this is a UK study, researchers are looking at monitoring the UK MS population, but this study highlights the vast technologies that have been developed within the MS research community. Moreover, it is not just a study about coronavirus and MS, but it has potential implications for the general population as well. We are looking forward to seeing and sharing the results of this unique study.