Uppsala scientists develop method for assessing COVID-19 immunity

7 May 2020

Ulf Landegren, Professor of Molecular Medicine at Uppsala University

Hello there… Ulf Landegren, Professor of Molecular Medicine at Uppsala University, whose research team are currently developing a new method for large-scale analysis of COVID-19 immunity and assessment of potential vaccines.

What’s going on in the laboratory?
“With financial support from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, we’re developing a variation on one of our established tools for identifying target proteins. We’re currently obtaining the materials we need, and the grant will cover purchases of necessary reagents. The project itself is one of several life-science initiatives that are now being coordinated by SciLifeLab to combat COVID-19 more effectively.”

What will your work bring to healthcare?
“Society is facing a huge challenge, and research focusing on COVID-19 is under way all over the world. That makes it difficult to contribute something truly unique. With that said, we hope to add our two cents’ worth by creating a large-scale method for analysing which people carry antibodies and are thereby immune to the virus. If we succeed with our special approach, it could also have a bearing on evaluation of potential vaccines.”

When will you be able to present a result?
“This is a task we’re prioritising, and hopefully we’ll start testing patients before year-end. On the other hand, we’re working under anything but optimal conditions. I myself work from home and take part in planning through digital meetings. When the project reaches the lab, a clear schedule is required for those who should be on the spot and at what times, to speed up the process while sticking to social distancing. All in all, as usual with research, it’s hard to predict one’s approximate time frames.”

Do you see a risk of the ongoing crisis driving research forward too fast?
“At the moment, there’s a great need for accessible data, and clearly some work is being published without being preceded by the customary scientific review. At the same time, we’re in an extreme situation where the shortest possible route from announcement to results is likely to benefit society. Of course, that involves a risk that many people will invent the same wheel simultaneously, and here SciLifeLab has a crucial role in coordinating the work we’re doing in Sweden.”

Does this mean that the research community is switching from competitive thinking to team efforts?
“Many people say they’re ready to help out where necessary, and hopefully we’ll live up to that, even when the going gets tough. The group that delivers a product that’s widely used will have the rights to something very valuable. In the longer term, I hope the situation helps us researchers to understand better our mission to both release and explain the results of our work.”

Facts

  • SciLifeLab (Science for Life Laboratory) is coordinating research efforts to devise alternative diagnostic methods, develop treatments, clarify how the genetic material of the virus changes over time and create biobanks with patient samples for future research efforts.
  • The initiative was made possible by a multimillion-krona grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation to provide immediate funding of promising projects.
  • To date, support has been given to 11 projects focusing on virus and immunity diagnostics for COVID-19 and six initiatives for collecting samples and establishing biobanks.
  • The selected projects include PLA-based large-scale analysis of Corona virus immunity, headed by Ulf Landegren, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Uppsala University.