COVID-19 Weekly Briefing, 7 September 2020

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Through our research, community outreach and expert commentary, the University of Birmingham is taking an active role in the fightback against COVID-19. Read our latest statements and follow our research updates.

Through Birmingham Health Partners, a strategic alliance between the University and two NHS Foundation Trusts, we are working to support frontline healthcare professionals. Visit Birmingham Health Partners.


University of Birmingham immunologist to lead major UK study to search for answers on COVID-19

A major new project, led by Professor Paul Moss at the University of Birmingham, is one of three new UK-wide studies, bringing together scientists from 17 research institutions, that will receive a share of £8.4 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to understand immune responses to the novel coronavirus. 

The scientists’ aim is to develop better tests to define immunity, to study the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and to understand why some people suffer from severe life-threatening COVID-19 while others have mild or asymptomatic infections but can still transmit the virus. Importantly these studies will determine when and how immunity persists or whether people can become re-infected.

The consortium will investigate key questions including:

  • How long does immunity from COVID-19 last?
  • Why are some people’s immune systems better able to fight off the virus?
  • Why do some people’s immune responses cause damage, especially to the lungs?
  • How does the virus ‘hide from’ the immune system and how can this be tackled?
  • Does immunity to previous infection with seasonal coronaviruses (which cause the common cold) alter a person’s outcome with SARS-CoV-2?

Better understanding of these immune responses, particularly the T cell response, could provide targets for new therapies to treat COVID-19 and inform the efforts to develop a vaccine.

New study describes which cancer patients are more vulnerable to COVID-19

A newly published study led by the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham has found that, compared to other cancers, patients with blood cancers are more vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. As access to treatment remains of upmost importance, this information will help clinicians to guide patients to ensure they can have therapy safely and successfully during this time.

The study, published in Lancet Oncology by the UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project (UKCCMP), found that blood cancer patients were particularly at risk with 57% higher odds of severe disease if they contract COVID-19. This was when compared to other cancer patients, such as breast cancer, which was shown to have the lowest risk overall.

Pregnant women with COVID-19 are less likely to show common symptoms, may be at higher risk of intensive care admission and could give birth early, new international study finds

Pregnant women, hospitalised with COVID-19 are less likely to manifest common virus symptoms like fever or muscle pain than non-pregnant women of the same age, and may be at an increased risk of intensive care admission, an international study into the impacts of COVID on pregnancy has found.

The study found that as well as being less likely to show symptoms, pregnant women who test positive for the SARS-COV2 virus may be at an increased risk of admission to intensive care units, and more likely to experience pre-term birth than similar aged non-pregnant women. Results also showed that a quarter of babies born to mothers with the virus were admitted to neonatal units, but importantly, stillbirth and newborn fatality rates were low.

Customers buying home testing kits for COVID were often misled by third-party websites, new study finds

Home-testing kits sold online in the UK and US in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic were provided with incomplete and in some cases, misleading information on how accurate they were, a new UK study by experts the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick has found.


Community testing site opens at University of Birmingham

A walk-through coronavirus testing facility has opened today (Thursday 27 August 2020) at the University of Birmingham, as part of the Government’s UK-wide drive to improve the accessibility of coronavirus testing for communities.

Breakthrough antibodies test to detect COVID-19 cases launches in Birmingham

A new test to detect COVID-19 antibodies in people with mild symptoms has been launched by The Binding Site in collaboration with the University of Birmingham’s Clinical Immunology Service.

The unique SARS-CoV-2 Antibody ELISA has been developed to identify individuals who have had a mild, non-hospitalised disease course following SARS-CoV-2 exposure. This latest development has brought together the Binding Site’s extensive experience in developing highly precise, accurate blood tests with the expertise of leading immunology and immunity experts at the University of Birmingham

The new test specifically detects antibodies (IgG, IgA and IgM) to the SARS-CoV-2 trimeric spike protein, which is an important protein for the virus infectivity. The test was designed to detect all three immunoglobulins produced by the body to optimise the sensitivity and to increase detection at the earliest possible stage after exposure to the virus.


COVID-19 pandemic should be a wake-up call for water security

Urgent action on water security is essential to better prepare societies for future global health crises, say experts at the University of Birminghamin the UK and Northwestern University in the US.

In a comment article published in Nature Sustainability, the researchers are urging policy makers across the world to focus on behavioural change, knowledge promotion and investment in water infrastructure. The call follows studies revealing nearly a quarter of households in low and middle income countries have been unable to follow basic guidelines on handwashing – recognised as critical for preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

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In partnership with Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust, NHS University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham Health Partners.