Science and the Coronavirus: Monkeys develop protective antibodies to SARS-CoV-2
A small study of macaques finds they don’t develop a coronavirus infection the second time they are exposed, supporting the idea of using plasma from recovered patients as a treatment for COVID-19.
Policymakers, public health professionals, and everyone affected by the spreading COVID-19 pandemic have been questioning for a while whether people develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2 after having been infected once. Research groups and companies around the world are currently hard at work developing plasma therapies, whereby antibody-containing blood plasma is extracted from recovered patients and administered to patients with severe cases to help them fight off the infection.
However, a study in monkeys provides some clues. Three rhesus macaques did not develop a second infection after recovering from a first exposure to the coronavirus and being reexposed to SARS-CoV-2, suggesting that primates are capable of developing at least some short-term immunity to the pathogen. The research has yet to undergo peer review. To the authors, the results indicate that reports of some COVID-19 survivors being “re-infected” a second time can be explained by issues with testing rather than a failure to develop immunity.
Based on these results, the team questions the reports of COVID-19 survivors recovering and being discharged upon testing negative for the virus, only to then develop another infection.
The team’s research began while the outbreak was mostly restricted to China. Reports surfaced that recovered COVID-19 patients who were discharged from hospitals later tested positive again. Chuan Qin, an experimental pathologist at the Institute of Laboratory Animal Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences had previously studied monkey responses to MERS and wanted to investigate whether it was possible to become re-infected with the new coronavirus.