Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) have been awarded $1.3 million to study disparities in immune response to COVID-19, through serological testing in Arkansas.
Serological testing measures a person’s immune response to an infection in the form of antibodies in the blood. The project will contribute to short- and long-term impact of COVID on the physical, psychological and social health of underrepresented minority men and women in Arkansas.
“This study will enable us to determine the duration of immunity response against SARS-CoV-2, which ultimately will determine the progression of the pandemic,” Dr. Wendy Nembhard, chair of the Epidemiology Department in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health and principal investigator on the project, said in a statement. “We also hope to learn the influence of psychosocial and behavioral factors on the response over time by race and ethnicity.”
The study will follow 450 men and women in Arkansas who are a racially, ethnically and geographically diverse representative sample of noninstitutionalized adults that have been tested for COVID-19 by a real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Researchers will enroll participants between November 2020 and April 2021 and follow the cohort for up to 24 months after testing.
The UAMS College of Public Health will lead the effort by recruiting, enrolling, interviewing and following participants for the duration of the study. Key researchers include Dr. Ben Amick, professor and associate dean for research; Dr. Kate Stewart, professor; and Dr. Ruofei Du, assistant professor.
Once participants are enrolled in the study, their blood will be tested by researchers from the UAMS College of Medicine. Drs. Karl Boehme, Josh Kennedy, and Craig Forrest, all associate professors, will lead this part of the study through their Serology Lab.
“Through this study, we predict we’ll find that non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics will have a weaker serologic response and shorter duration or response to infection compared to non-Hispanic whites,” said Nembhard. “Which might partially explain their higher rates of hospitalization and mortality from COVID-19.”
The project is funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) through the new national Serological Sciences Network (SeroNet). SeroNet is a major component of NCI’s response to the pandemic and is included in an emergency congressional appropriation of $306 million to the institute “to develop, validate, improve and implement serological testing and associated technologies.” SeroNet is one of the largest coordinated effort to study immunology and COVID-19 in the U.S., involving more than 25 universities, cancer centers and laboratories. They will work with NCI and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to rapidly deploy serological testing to the public, improve understanding of the immune response, and mitigate the pathogen’s spread.