Three researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the Small Molecule Screening Facility (SMSF) at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center (UWCCC) have expanded their collaboration in new directions because of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, Gene Ananiev, PhD, Facility Manager of the SMSF, Tim Bugni, PhD, a Professor in the School of Pharmacy, and David Andes, MD, Professor of Medicine and Medical Microbiology and Immunology and Head of the Division of Infection Disease, worked together on antibiotic compound discovery and development, now they have added Covid-19-related projects to that list.
“It was kind of an interesting aside…” said David Andes “To try to see a need, fill a need.”
The need they saw was for tools that are necessary around any pandemic or infectious disease outbreak: Ways to quickly diagnose and manage those who are infected and ways to study the epidemiology of the disease—the distribution pattern and frequency, causes and risk factors for infection within a population. Specifically, the three were interested in an antibody test that could be used not only to understand the proportion of the population that might have already been infected with SARS-CoV-2, but that also could be used to evaluate the response to different vaccine candidates.
Bioluminescent Antibody Detection
As they explored possible technologies, they were intrigued by the bioluminescent approach used in the Lumit™ Dx SARS- CoV-2 Immunoassay from Promega, in part because they already used other bioluminescent assays in the lab.
“We use a lot of Nano luciferase [sic: NanoLuc® Luciferase] and that kind of assay,” said Gene Ananiev “So really for us it is not an issue running it or training staff.”
This familiarity with bioluminescent technologies such as the Lumit™ technology, combined with the assay’s scalability and lower resource needs compared to other platforms made the assay very appealing.
The SMSF has validated their high-throughput Lumit™ Dx SARS-CoV-2 Immunoassay workflow using clinical samples collected by the CDC on the UW Madison campus this fall as COVID-19 cases climbed following the return of students to campus. They also gained access to samples collected through the Survey the Health of Wisconsin study.
They are pleased with how well the assay is working.
In fact, according to Gene, the longest part of the procedure is manipulating the samples. “Believe it or not, that’s the most difficult aspect of all of this—cracking open the sample tubes and closing them.” Once the source plates are made, the actual test itself takes about an hour. “I can get multiple [plates] done in a workday, no problem.”
A Validated Assay Workflow
Now that they have validated their assay’s high-throughput workflow, they are talking with the University about how it could be used. As students prepare to leave campus for the Thanksgiving and winter breaks, there could be value in testing them as they return to campus to identify those who might have been exposed and recovered during the break.
They are also thinking of who else might be interested in the assay. “[As Gene said] it was easy to do and it works really well.” commented David, “and so the potential that this could be exported to other labs to do the same seems very possible.” Professor Tim Bugni is also hoping that they can offer the assay to the UW Cancer Center and the transplant groups to help better understand how past COVID-19 infection may affect these vulnerable populations.
Next Steps and Looking to the Future
Moving forward, they are already thinking of ways to adapt their workflow to make the screening method more streamlined and higher throughput. The easier they can make the workflow for the lab the better, because the lab staff is facing the same COVID-19-related challenges as everyone else.
“The big issue right now,” said Gene, “Is staff hours because everybody is having a difficult time dealing with the pandemic.” They have some ideas that might help decrease the hands-on time needed from laboratory staff and are excited to see how far they could take it.
And if it turns out that having antibodies does confer a level of protection from reinfection? Dr. Andes summed it up this way
“If a subset of us knew we had already been infected and thus weren’t [a] risk as an asymptomatic person that might be currently infected?” he said “The peace of mind that this would give people with their families….people are going to want to know.”
Thank you to the faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center Small Molecule Screening Facility for contributing to this blog.
About the Scientists
Gene Ananiev, PhD: Dr. Ananiev is the facility manager of the Small Molecule Screening Facility. He has a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UW Madison and specializes in high-throughput screening techniques.
David Andes, M.D.: Dr. David Andes, is a Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI. He is Head of the Division of Infectious Disease. The focus of Dr. Andes’ research programs involves identification of strategies to combat antimicrobial (especially antifungal) drug resistance. Study approaches include defining the molecular basis for drug resistance, drug target development, pharmacodynamic investigation, and clinical trial study of resistance epidemiology.
Tim Bugni, PhD: Dr Bugni is a professor in the School of Pharmacy and the Faculty Leader for the UW Carbone Cancer Center Drug Discovery Core and Small Molecule Screening Facility. Dr. Bugni’s research interests are marine natural products chemistry, symbiotic microorganisms, drug discovery, metabolomics, and NMR and MS for structure elucidation of novel natural products.
If you are interested in learning more about the role immunoassays play in epidemiology studies for COVID-19, read the following article: What are Seroprevalence Surveys and What Do They Tell Us About COVID-19?
Want to learn more about the Lumit™ Dx SARS-CoV-2 Immunoassay? View the free webinar: A Novel Bioluminescent Immunoassay for Detecting SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies
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