Saturday, November 27

Covid-19: the ‘laboratory in a box’ that determines the immune response


Imagine being able to walk into a pharmacy, have a two-minute test, and only 15 minutes later find out how protected you are against Covid-19.

That’s what New Zealand-based Orbis hopes to make available in the not-too-distant future.

Orbis Scientific Co-Founder Professor David Williams and Technical Director Dr. Matheus Vargas with a Prototype Platform

Orbis Scientific Co-Founder Professor David Williams and Technical Director Dr. Matheus Vargas with a Prototype Platform
Photo: SUPPLIED / Orbis Diagnostics

A “laboratory in a box” called Arca has been developed which has produced very positive results in preliminary tests, both in terms of precision and ease of use.

Orbis hopes to finally roll out the device in pharmacies, airports and workplaces around the world so that people can easily find out how protected they are against the virus.

And as the national conversation turns to Covid booster vaccines, the company believes it could help determine who needs a third dose of the vaccine.

We wanted to see how it worked and they agreed to test me and my colleague Ella Stewart.

We made our way to a GP clinic in Auckland’s Papatoetoe, where Dr. Api Talemaitoga and his team took blood samples with a fingerstick device like those used in diabetes testing.

I had my second injection of Pfizer on October 6, a little over three weeks before the Orbis trial. So in theory, it should be almost at maximum protection against Covid right now.

Blood is drawn from RNZ reporter Ella Stewart to analyze it and check how protected it is from Covid-19

Blood is drawn from RNZ reporter Ella Stewart to analyze it and check how protected it is from Covid-19
Photo: RNZ / Matthew Theunissen

She lives with a frontline worker, so she got vaccinated early in the launch, about five and a half months ago, so her immunity could be starting to wane.

“The evidence from abroad is that it has started to decline for about six months and, as you know, Israel and the UK are starting to offer reinforcements,” said Dr Talemaitoga.

The team then took our blood samples to their lab in Penrose and fed them through the Arca machine.

It’s a fully automated process and before we could say “immunoglobulin”, Talemaitoga called with the results.

“It is my great pleasure to tell you that your result shows that you have a high immune response,” he said.

“It goes hand in hand with getting his second puncture in early October. So, as you know, the literature says it’s two weeks after the second puncture that he gets that maximum immune response.”

She recorded a “medium” response.

“A medium response is still good, but … it would make sense that if you get tested again in a few months, if it starts to go down, hopefully that’s a recommendation for you to get a booster shot, which is what we’ve seen abroad “.

How the Orbis Arca is anticipated to look like once fully developed

How the Orbis Arca is anticipated to look like once fully developed
Photo: SUPPLIED / Orbis Diagnostics

University of Auckland chemistry professor David Williams is one of the scientific founders of Orbis.

He came up with the idea for the device while thinking, of all things, of the cow stables.

“I learned about this technology in Ireland, I was doing a fellowship there, and I thought, you know, you could measure all kinds of things you want to know about your cows.

“The nutritional status and the health status and the reproductive status of your cows and you could do it every milking.

“This kind of technology seemed like it could make accurate measurements quickly because, you know, in a cow barn you have something like seven minutes for each cow to be on milking bail and you want the results right away.”

He believes that it could be a very useful tool in the fight against Covid-19.

“If you’re going on a trip, you might want to assess your risk yourself in relation to where you’re going, so … [it] measures your antibodies and there is an estimate of your risk of contracting Covid. I think that empowers people.

“Other things like corporate situations or workers at the border. The test is very easy, it can be done every month.”

Orbis has sparked interest from around the world and Professor Williams hopes that it can start manufacturing devices on a large scale by the end of the year.

The company is also working with Sir Ian Taylor, who this afternoon will embark on one of the first non-quarantine overseas trips since the onset of the pandemic.

Sir Ian Taylor.

Sir Ian Taylor.
Photo: RNZ

The Orbis device is among a suite of technologies that you will be testing during your trip, which will see you in isolation for two weeks when you return from Los Angeles.

“What became really clear is that there is a set time frame for the effectiveness of vaccines. You know, we already have people who may have applied them for six months or more, and they have no idea what the effectiveness is,” he said. .

“So there are two things: One tells you that you’ve had the vaccine, but I think now more and more people will want to know how effective it is on their system.”

See that the Orbis test will be available in pharmacies around the world.

“You know, if you’re a little anxious, if you’ve had your shot for a while, you just go in, do a test and it says, ‘yeah, you’re still fine’ or ‘no, you need a booster.

“I think this is one of the most important tests that the government should consider.”

The company has just completed a test with Air New Zealand personnel to assess whether they may need booster shots.

The results are expected to be released in a week or two.


www.rnz.co.nz

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