UAE scientists create COVID-19 antibody test for animals

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A team of scientists in the United Arab Emirates have created a COVID-19 antibody test for animals which can check dozens of different species to see if they have been exposed to the deadly virus.

The antibody test is now being used on hundreds of blood samples collated from different breeds of animals to see which species have contracted COVID-19 – and which ones later developed antibodies to the virus, Dr Ulrich Wernery, a veterinary microbiologist in Dubai and head of the emirate’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, told Al Arabiya English.

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Dr Wernery said the study is part of his ongoing research to find more answers to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, how it spreads across both human and animal kingdoms, and hopefully provide vital answers into how to tackle the global pandemic and treat infected patients.

He said little information exists on which animals are hosts for the virus.

COVID-19 have been found among some animals, including gorillas in a San Diego Zoo, a tiger at Bronx Zoo, lions at a Barcelona Zoo, a snow leopard at Kentucky, and among Danish minks, among others.

“Nobody really knows how many animal species are sensitive to COVID-19,” said Dr Wernery. “We know humans can get it, we know minks can get it, we know cats can get it, some ferrets can get and some other animals.”

“But we do not know about sheep, goats, horses, monkeys and other animal species and so on.”

“So, we have now produced an antibody test to check the antibodies of many – about 18 - different animal species if they have antibodies against COVID-19.”

If the team finds antibodies in samples of the animals, the scientists know they have, at one point, been exposed to the virus.

“We want to find this out with this new test,” said Dr Wernery.
“This is a very, very sophisticated test and it can be used on many animal species as well as humans. We can find out which animal species had contact to the virus and which then developed antibodies.”

Dr Wernery said over the years at his lab, he and his team of scientists have stored thousands of samples of blood serum from the tissues of different animals.

The team have selected 500 samples which they are now in the process of testing for COVID-19 antibodies.

“Serum – or sera- is a part of the blood in which red blood cells and white blood cells are removed. In this liquid and fluid, you can find all the antibodies which are produced against foreign bodies coming from outside.”

“Most probably your blood, my blood has hundreds of thousands of different antibodies against many, many foreign bodies – or viruses – which have hit us during our lifetime.”

The same, he said, is true for COVID-19.

“When the coronavirus hits you, your body produces antibodies to fight the virus and to neutralize the virus so you get healthier after a while.”

“The same is done when you get vaccinated. So you are injected with a dead virus and your body produces antibodies against this virus to protect you.”

“We want to check the serum from many different animals which we do not yet know about their vulnerability to COVID19 and check if they have antibodies; that would be very interesting indeed.”

More knowledge about which species are both receptors and hosts for the virus could provide further answers in tackling the global pandemic, said Dr Wernery.

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While the exact source of COVID-19 is unknown, WHO scientists believe it likely came from a bat.

More than 191 million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

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