A team of researchers at Sinai Health and the University of Toronto is in the early stages of developing a blood test that can identify who is immune to COVID-19 on a mass scale.

The test, an adaptation of an ELISA assay, has the potential to allow hospitals and other institutions to screen up to 10,000 samples at once, allowing entire workforces to be tested efficiently. The new test will make use of the robotics platform at Sinai Health’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute (LTRI).

Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras, project co-lead, said the test works by detecting antibodies in the immune system of infected patients. Those antibodies persist in blood even after the virus has been completely eliminated.

“The entire city has come together to make this possible,” Gingras said. “This test is being developed with the goal of monitoring the percentage of the population that has been infected and to help in identifying those individuals that may have protective immunity.”

The project is a collaboration between Gingras and Jeff Wrana, both senior investigators at LTRI and professors of molecular genetics at the University of Toronto, and a team of researchers from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, including Dr. James Rini, who was key to producing proteins for the assay.

Dr. Karen Maxwell, an assistant professor in the department of biochemistry, who is helping to coordinate COVID-19 research efforts at the University of Toronto, said the ELISA test can provide valuable information about the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.

“This test will allow us to track the true spread and magnitude of the disease,” Maxwell said. “Determining who has been infected and has antibodies will be important information for making decisions about how and when we return to our normal activities.”

Jim Woodgett, Koffler Director of Research at LTRI, said such advances are possible thanks to close collaboration between scientists across institutions.

“Sinai Health and the University of Toronto are ideally positioned to develop this critically important antibody-based test,” Woodgett said. “This research group is eager to contribute in any way possible to help Canada overcome this historic public health challenge.”

These blood-based tests do not directly detect the live virus and are not intended to replace current tests for infection. The test is currently in the early research phase and not in use clinically, but the team hopes to progress to testing volunteers within the next two weeks.