“Am I protected?” Tzu Chi University Conducts Antibody Detection Research

After being vaccinated against COVID-19, will our bodies produce antibodies? How long will this last? The public cares about their well-being. So, Tzu Chi University decided to conduct antibody detection research, targeting people, ages 20 to 90, who have taken vaccines or will receive vaccinations soon. The COVID-19 vaccines most people receive in Taiwan are Modena, AZ, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Medigen.

Professor Shun-Ping Huang of the Department of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, who led the research team, said that the study will be helpful for future vaccine-related policies.

“Does the test result show two lines (which means that the test result is positive)?” “Is my antibody level high?” Professor Huang’s lab conducts this research. Those who sign up to participate in this trial must fill in their information, and then the lab staff will collect their blood samples. The lab staff will place blood samples into test reagents developed by the University and get the test result in 15 minutes.

Based on the test result, the staff will determine whether the person has antibodies, and then conduct blood serum isolation in the lab, before sending the serum to Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital. There, the SARS-CoV-2 IgG level in serum or plasma will be quantified by semi-quantitative chemical luminescence particle immunoassay.

The epidemic has disrupted the people’s pace worldwide, and scientists have been working hard to look for COVID-19 related preventions and management. Responding to the people’s needs, numerous TCU teams, comprising faculty members and students, have made efforts since early 2020. The University has successfully developed COVID-19 detection kits, and is working to develop antibody detection reagents.

Currently, 70% of the people in Taiwan have had their first doses, and 30% have had second doses. Professor Huang mentioned that many people, who have received the vaccines in Europe and the United States, had also taken antibody detection tests. Hence, Professor Huang decided to carry out the study in Taiwan, tracking people’s antibody responses and conducting the needed follow-up. The project will last for a year, studying the first dose’s reactions to the second dose. Through the ongoing study, the team wishes to understand how long the antibodies will last and provide the results for decision-makers in formulating the COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Jia-Ying Jian, a doctoral student of the Institute of Medical Sciences, is responsible for conducting antibody detection tests. She designs the components of antibody detection assay, isolates serum from the blood, and answers questions raised by people participating in the trial. Jia-Ying said: “Antibodies and antigens are invisible, but through participating in the process of development and testing of antibody detection assay, I understand how to turn the positive result into a line so that we can quickly see it.” Through this experience, she learned how to apply what she has learned.

Zhi-Wei Qiu, a student from the Department of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, has worked in Professor Huang’s lab since his junior year. He said that all of his previous lab work was associated more with animals and less with humans. This project needs to recruit 1,200 individuals to take the test, so Professor Huang and the lab staff have been busy inviting people. Zhi-Wei said: “While participating in the project, I anticipate encountering many hardships. Some may seem cumbersome, but none of them are indispensable.”

From participating in the project, he now understands the vaccine efficacy, proteins, and antibodies that he learned in the class much better. Moreover, he has better knowledge of their applications; he also realizes what he wants to learn in the future.

Kai-Jun Zhong, who is responsible for collecting blood samples, is an alumnus of the Department of Nursing, Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology. Kai-Jun mentioned that he had not participated in any research project before, so he wanted to acquire lab experience. He didn’t know how to operate lab instruments, initially, but Professor Huang and the other lab members helped him.

The University works on the project with Tzu Chi Hospitals in Hualien, Taipei, Taichung, and Dalin and is currently recruiting people in northern, central, southern, and eastern Taiwan. It wishes to contribute to the epidemic by encouraging faculty members and students to participate in various epidemic-related projects and collaborating with numerous healthcare institutions on various programs.