Press release
Lausanne, 14 juillet 2021

New blood test measures immunity against SARS-CoV-2

The Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) and EPFL teamed up to develop a new test that’s sensitive enough to measure the amount of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies present in the bloodstream. The scientists’ discovery, published in the prestigious Science Translational Medicine, opens promising new avenues for tracking immunity acquired by infection or vaccination. With this test, experts can measure the level of protection against variants of the virus and monitor their prevalence over time.

Copyright EPFL

Blood tests detect the presence of antibodies against an infectious agent, such as SARS-CoV-2, in a patient’s bloodstream. Some antibodies simply indicate whether the individual has been previously exposed to either the virus or a vaccine, while others – known as neutralizing antibodies – provide immunity against infection or re-infection.

In the case of SARS-CoV-2, neutralizing antibodies work by interfering with the virus’ spike protein, which is the key that the virus uses to enter respiratory system cells by binding to the ACE2 receptors on the cells’ surface.

The research was carried out by the teams at the CHUV’s Service of Immunology and Allergy, which are led by Prof. Giuseppe Pantaleo and Dr. Craig Fenwick, and by EPFL’s Laboratory of Virology and Genetics, headed by Prof. Didier Trono and Dr. Priscilla Turelli. The new antibody test is a highly sensitive and extremely accurate way of measuring how well a sample of blood serum can prevent the spike protein in its trimeric form – as found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – from binding to ACE2 receptors.

Because the new method requires a simple blood test, it can be deployed easily on a large scale. The test results show whether a patient has developed immunity against one or more variants of SARS-CoV-2. The research team was able to develop the test rapidly thanks to the core facilities set up and supported over many years by the Swiss Vaccine Research Institute.

About the new antibody test
The new test is available at the CHUV’s Service of Immunology and Allergy. It can be taken only at the request of a doctor. The test costs CHF 100 and is not currently covered by Swiss health insurance plans.

About EPFL

EPFL (www.epfl.ch), one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, based in Lausanne, is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society. 

About Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV)

CHUV is one of Switzerland’s five university hospitals, alongside Geneva, Bern, Basel and Zurich. It is tasked with three basic missions by the public authorities, namely care, teaching and research. It provides care in all areas of medicine, including physical disorders and psychiatric illnesses, medical and surgical disciplines, outpatient and inpatient treatment.

In 2021, CHUV’s 12,228 employees cared for 51,205 inpatients, accounting for over 500,374 days of hospitalisation. It dealt with 80,261 emergencies, provided 1,451,300 outpatient consultations and welcomed 3,177 new babies into the world. Its annual budget is 1.832 billion Swiss francs.

CHUV works closely with the Faculty of Biology and Medicine of the University of Lausanne to provide undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education for doctors. It also works with other higher education institutions in the Lake Geneva area (including EPFL, ISREC, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Geneva), with the University Hospitals of Geneva and other hospitals, health care providers and institutions, such as the Federation of Vaud Hospitals and the Vaud Society of Medicine.

Since 2019, CHUV has been ranked as one of the best hospitals in the world according to Newsweek magazine.