An at-home COVID-19 antibody rapid test cassette. Bloomberg
Picture for illustrative purposes: An at-home COVID-19 antibody rapid test cassette. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: New COVID-19 antibody test kits have been introduced by the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) as part of the drive to support the country’s readiness in combating the current pandemic.

Thew NRl, part of Mubadala Healthcare’s network, announced the introduction of these test kits on Tuesday.

While acknowledging that the Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing contineud to the gold standard for diagnosing COVID-19, NRL experts highlighted the benefits of the new serology test kits, stating these complementary antibody tests provide useful information for treating the disease and analysing its spread, as well as having potential implications for human resource planning.

Anti-body test to complement the nasal swab testing

Dr Laila Abdel Wareth, NRL’s Deputy CEO and Chief Scientific Officer, emphasised that the new tests are not meant to replace traditional RT- PCR testing, but instead were complementary to them.

Dr Laila Abdel Wareth

“While research is ongoing, for essential high-risk services such as healthcare and home nursing, and other sectors characterised by mass congregations, these test results can help human resources to speculate in an educated way about which employees should be deployed where depending on whether or not they have the antibodies against COVID-19 and, therefore, possible protection against infection. There should be no change in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by healthcare workers,” said Dr Abdel Wareth.

Dr Abdel Wareth also cautioned individuals against a false sense of security from positive antibody test results. “While anyone can take these tests to determine whether they have been exposed to the virus and have developed antibodies, it does not mean they can ignore precautions, more studies are needed on the protective nature of the antibodies.”

Anti-body tests to provide a more comprehensive picture of the epidemiology of the pandemic

Abdul Hamid Qubeisi

Abdul Hamid Oubeisi, CEO of Mubadala Healthcare provider NRL pointed out that the serology tests’ potential uses will become increasingly critical in time. “The value will become clearer as we build up more scientific evidence regarding the protective nature of antibodies as well as the necessary concentration and longevity of this protection. In addition, as health authorities and healthcare providers work together to produce a full picture of the nature and spread of the disease, we believe serological testing will be deemed invaluable in managing this and any future pandemics.

The addition of the new test aligns with NRL’s aim to extend our scope of services to meet the needs of the government and community in understanding and mitigating the effects of COVID-19. Since the start of the outbreak, we have substantially increased our capacity for RT-PCR testing and have added new rapid testing technology and software analysis tools. Serology testing was the natural next step,” he said.

New test will help government prepare protective health policy

Oubeisi reported that NRL reviewed several of the newer serology tests, and selected its test kit based on its high sensitivity and specificity levels, which underscore the test’s accuracy. The chosen kit has a specificity of more than 99.5 per cnet. NRL has the capacity and resources to turn the results around in few hours.

NRL’s experts have found that the serology results offer insights useful in clinical treatment settings - such as supporting the diagnosis of COVID-19 illness for patients who present late after nine to 14 days of illness; in children presenting with multisystem inflammatory syndrome; and in identifying suitable donors for convalescent plasma therapy. On a larger scale, the information from serology tests can also be used in analysing the epidemiology of this pandemic to help governments and health authorities develop protective policies and mitigate the impact of the disease.