Ulster University launches study into COVID-19 exposure and immunity in NI

  • Photo: Ulster University professors Tara Moore and Jim McLaughlin

    Ulster University has launched a new study into Covid-19 exposure and immunity in Northern Ireland, led by professors Tara Moore and Jim McLaughlin.

    The two professors are part of the UK Government Rapid Test Consortium, which is developing antibody tests for the deadly virus.

    The project team hopes to recruit 3,000 participants to understand the number of people in NI who have been exposed to coronavirus and whether different age groups or ethnicities make antibodies. 

    The study will also investigate the genetic risk factors for COVID-19 symptoms. 

    This will be done using Ulster University’s COVID-19 app and the consortium’s "highly sensitive lateral flow test".

    RELATED: Ulster University develops its own COVID-19 diagnostic app

    The results from the study are aimed to help inform public policy and recovery strategy, and give individuals peace of mind to return to work as the lockdown eases. 

    Participants who are antibody positive will be assessed over time for up to one year to see how long their antibodies are present.

    Prof Tara Moore who specialises in Personalised Medicine at Ulster University said: “Everyone is eager to know if they have had COVID-19. Many people with symptoms were advised to stay at home and self-isolate without being tested so we just don’t know how many people in Northern Ireland have been affected. 

    "This novel study is a great opportunity to find out if you have COVID-19 antibodies and help us learn more about COVID-19 exposure and immunity in Northern Ireland. 

    “It’s a very simple pin prick test and participants receive their results within 15 minutes. Those who test positive will be invited for a blood test. These blood samples will allow us to store DNA and perform genetic analysis to look for factors that influence how severe a COVID-19 infection could be as and when these genetic factors are discovered.” 

    RELATED: Ulster University Professors join COVID-19 antibody test consortium

    Prof Jim McLaughlin, who is also director of the Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre at Ulster University commented: “All tests will be conducted using the UK Government Rapid Test Consortium’s new highly sensitive antibody test.

    "Our study will help to validate the test and test user experience before the government deploys these home tests to inform their recovery plans and better handle future outbreaks or even monitor the success of a vaccine when it is eventually developed.”

    The Ulster University PANDEMIC study is partly funded by Kingsbridge Private Hospital. 

    RELATED: UU creates Covid-19 tracker that compares NI and ROI data

    How to take part 
    Researchers from the Schools of Biomedical Science and Engineering are looking for volunteers between the ages of 18 and 90, whether they think they have had COVID-19 or not, to survey the presence of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the blood of the people of Northern Ireland. 

    Eligible participants will be asked to 

    • Download the Ulster University COVID-19 smartphone app 
    • Answer questions on their age, health and any COVID-19 symptoms they have, or have had 
    • Attend a one-off short drive-through appointment in the university to take a finger-prick blood test 
    • If participants test positive for the COVID-19 antibody they will be invited to give a blood sample 

    If you are interested in participating in the study please email pandemicstudy@ulster.ac.uk 

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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