AFRL seeks area volunteers for new research into antibodies

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Goal is to get ahead of spread of COVID-19.

The Air Force Research Laboratory is seeking healthy volunteers from the Dayton area for a COVID-19 antibodies research study.

The goal is a lofty one: To increase testing to 250,000 Department of Defense personnel a day, up from about 50,000 a week currently.

The bottom line is getting ahead of the spread of COVID-19, said Dr. Corey Hart, senior physiologist and a principal investigator at the 711th Human Performance Wing, which like AFRL is based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“It is ambitious, but it is necessary," Hart said.

The research arm of the Air Force says it will use the anonymous test results to determine if there are COVID-19-related antibodies present in test participants who have been free of a confirmed exposure to the novel coronavirus.

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Participants will be asked to complete a health assessment and demographic questionnaire, submit a blood sample in person or with a take-home kit — or schedule an in-person appointment with an experienced AFRL employee to provide a saliva sample at an off-base facility.

An AFRL spokesman said the study was previously open to base personnel only, but not enough volunteers have participated as of yet, so the study is now open to qualified Dayton-area residents overall.

Early COVID-19 tests focused on people who exhibited symptoms or who thought they had been exposed to someone with symptoms. And we’re still pretty much there, Hart said.

But Hart and his fellow researchers want to perfect testing of those who are not showing symptoms, adopting a “surveillance approach" to combating the disease.

“That’s really the key to what we’re doing.” he said.

“Even when a vaccine does come out, we’re not going to be able to give it to everybody right away,” Hart noted, going on to stress that the Air Force is not involved in any kind of vaccine development.

If we can test more people more frequently, then we can catch those who are or have been asymptomatic, Hart said. The presence of antibodies -- proteins that help a body’s immune system kick in -- can give researchers clues to who has been infected with COVID-19, even if they haven’t exhibited symptoms.

“The antibody test allows us to see how widespread the disease is,” Hart said.

Beavercreek defense contractor UES is working with the Air Force on the test.

“UES and our extended research team are incredibly proud to be supporting this research and the Air Force’s effort to better understand COVID-19 antibodies and related implications," said Dr. Stephaney Shanks, integrative health and performance sciences director at UES.

How to participate

To participate in the study, volunteers must be 18 or older with no clinically confirmed history of COVID-19 infection or exposure. Contact the COVID-19 Science and Technology Testing Solutions Study by email at 711HPW.RH.COVID-19TestingResea@us.af.mil.

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