The University of Arizona will provide antibody testing for the state of Arizona. Gov. Doug Ducey announced earlier that the state will offer antibody tests for health care workers and first responders across the state. The state investment will allow UArizona to test 250,000 of Arizona’s front-line workforce.

“We are proud to partner with the state of Arizona to provide antibody testing to our front-line workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic,” said University of Arizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins.

“As one of the top research institutions in the country, the University of Arizona is ready and poised to provide this service to the state of Arizona and our entire Wildcat family,” Robbins said.

Earlier this month, President Robbins announced his intent to provide antibody tests to all 45,000 UArizona students and 15,000 faculty and staff. The student and faculty tests will be funded through private donations.

With $3.5 million in funding from the state, the University of Arizona is moving forward with plans to start producing blood tests to detect COVID-19 antibodies for the Arizona’s front-line workforce.

The antibody tests build upon the work of UArizona Health Sciences researchers and BIO5 Institute members Dr. Janko Nikolich-Žugich, professor and head of the Department of Immunobiology, and Deepta Bhattacharya, associate professor of immunobiology. The tests will help determine how many people have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and have successfully built an immunity against it. Experts say as many as 50% of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 have experienced few to no symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Michael D. Dake, senior vice president for UArizona Health Sciences

Dr. Michael D. Dake, senior vice president for UArizona Health Sciences

“Determining whether a significant percentage of individuals have COVID-19 antibodies is critical to returning to regular social interaction,” said Dr. Michael D. Dake, senior vice president for UArizona Health Sciences, who is overseeing production of the tests. “Through what we hope would eventually be a comprehensive testing program, the university and local health care facilities could begin working toward reestablishing fully operational learning and working environments.”

“We compliment Governor Ducey’s foresight to test 250,000 front-line people in the state,” said Robbins. “As the state’s land-grant university, we are excited to offer our unique health services to the state for this very important program.”

It typically takes a week for someone infected with COVID-19 to start producing antibodies. During this later phase of an infection, a properly functioning immune system deploys antibodies that bind to the virus like a key in a lock, marking it for death and persisting in the bloodstream to protect against future infection.

Tests for COVID-19 antibodies can determine who is no longer in immediate danger from the virus. The tests also could be important for determining the reach of the pandemic and for providing a pathway to developing therapeutics for COVID-19 patients, as well as vaccines to guard against infection.

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Image: Work on antibody testing in Janko Nikolich-Žugich’s lab. (Photo: Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences)