When a virus invades the body, it leaves fingerprints behind. A research tool known as VirScan can detect this evidence – from just a single drop of blood – and identify the viruses that have infected a person in the past. Soon, the new coronavirus will join the VirScan lineup.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Elledge’s lab has emptied out. However, he, Nouran Abdelfattah (shown), and six other researchers have continued working in person, under new safety rules, to get VirScan ready to study this disease.
Image/Steve Elledge

Geneticist Steve Elledge, who led VirScan’s development, is now adding the virus, formally known as SARS-CoV-2, to VirScan’s library of pathogens. The immunological insights generated by this update could potentially help researchers working on new vaccines – or even offer scientists a way to identify previously undetected cases of the disease. By mid-April, Elledge expects that two or three academic research labs already using VirScan will have received the update, with other labs to follow.

“This is a community resource. It is all about making analysis of the coronavirus happen in real time in the places that need it,” says Elledge, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Elledge’s lab began adding SARS-CoV-2 to VirScan in January and has now completed, but not yet tested, the update. The researchers are currently waiting on blood samples from people who have had COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Targeting SARS-CoV-2

VirScan works by detecting antibodies, immune system proteins that can latch onto specific spots on a particular virus and hasten its destruction. Antibodies remain in the blood for years after an infection, guarding the body in case that same virus returns.

Read more at Howard Hughes Medical Institute