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Framingham Lab Launches Rapid Test For Telltale Coronavirus Antibodies

(Courtesy Boston Heart Diagnostics)
(Courtesy Boston Heart Diagnostics)

Boston Heart Diagnostics in Framingham normally runs advanced blood tests related to heart disease, but is now launching a test for antibodies that mean a person has had the coronavirus and may be immune to further infection.

Lab president Pat Noland says that as far as he knows, the test is the first COVID-19 antibody test available in New England, though the Mayo Clinic has launched one as well.

"We plan to partner with local hospitals to get this valuable information to the acute patients in hospitals, the hospital workers and our first responders that we need to keep well so they can keep the rest of us safe," he says.

Boston Heart Diagnostics can test 4,800 samples a day, Noland says, and expects to start testing for a handful of hospitals immediately. It promises results within hours.

It is not yet clear whether people who've had COVID-19 and developed antibodies to it are immune to repeat infection, but researchers consider it likely. Some in Italy are even discussing whether only those who can show immunity should be allowed back to work and to mingle with others.

The Boston Heart Diagnostics test will be offered initially only to hospitals, and must be ordered by a doctor, Noland says. He declined to say how much it costs or which hospitals have ordered it.

Boston Heart Diagnostics normally works on tests aimed at preventing heart disease, including for signs of inflammation and insulin resistance.

"We realized, though, that we have the instruments and the technical capability to do this," Noland says, "and we basically redirected our efforts, much like some companies are now making ventilators that didn't traditionally make ventilators."

The COVID-19 test looks for a type of antibodies that reflect having had active disease, he says, and it's thought the best time to test for them is at 14 days after infection. The lab hopes to participate in research with local hospitals to monitor patients' immune response over time and possibly to help with efforts to develop treatments from antibodies.

Even people who've had no symptoms can develop antibodies, so such antibody testing is seen as a key tool to determine just how widespread the coronavirus is.

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Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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