Scientific highlights

06.05.2020

T1 diabetes & SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing

Established study combines early detection of type 1 diabetes with SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing in thousands of children
 
Large-scale antibody testing against the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 could help to obtain reliable data on infection rates. Screening children for early stages of type 1 diabetes in Bavaria, "Fr1da-plus" will now integrate SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing directly into their field study. Together with an existing network of more than 600 physicians and led by Helmholtz Zentrum München, researchers could test up to 65,000 blood samples from the Fr1da-plus study for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, too.

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Fr1da-plus collects blood samples from children in Bavaria, Germany, aged 2-5 and 9-10 years for early detection of type 1 diabetes. These samples are now to be tested for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 – both, retrospectively from August 2019 to the present (approximately 15,000 samples) and continuously over the next two years (in the best case about 50,000 samples – depending on financial means). The already existing sample collection and the close cooperation with more than 600 medical practices enables the Fr1da plus researchers to perform the tests immediately and on a large scale.  

These tests will be carried out under the assumption that the presence of antibodies against the immunodominant epitope of the SARS-CoV-2 protein, i.e. the receptor binding domain of the S protein, might enable a conclusion about the individual immunity. At present, there is no proof of immunity to SARS-CoV-2. As soon as this is available, the tests could provide relevant information on the immunity situation of children in Bavaria.

Key findings for epidemiology 

In addition to the SARS-CoV-2 infection rate in children in Bavaria, the tests could provide insights into the spread pattern and detect potential differences in region, age and gender. Moreover, the researchers of Fr1da-plus are particularly interested in finding out whether there is a correlation between the presence and number of antibodies indicative of pre-symptomatic type 1 diabetes and antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 – in other words, whether the risk of children developing autoimmune type 1 diabetes might be associated with an increased risk for COVID-19. 

Prof. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler, head of the Fr1da-plus study and Director at the Institute of Diabetes Research at Helmholtz Zentrum München: “Our existing large network of pediatricians in Bavaria offers the best opportunities to drive epidemiological research on the frequency of exposure to COVID-19 and thus makes an important contribution to corona research in general. We expect to be able to deliver first testing results in autumn 2020.”

Methodology

The research project is carried out in cooperation with the scientists Vito Lampasona and Dr. Lorenzo Piemonti of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, who developed a non-commercial antibody test. The test is a luciferase immunoprecipitation test (LIPS assay) against SARS-CoV-2, which works on a similar principle as the existing insulin antibody test of the Fr1da-plus study.

Limitations

The antibody test against SARS-CoV-2, which the team will use, is only available for Fr1da-plus participants. It is not aimed at the early diagnosis of an acute infection, since antibodies only appear slowly during the course of a disease.

Learn more about Fr1da-plus (German only): https://www.typ1diabetes-frueherkennung.de