Antibodies are an important part of how the body’s immune system fights off infections to keep us healthy. In the human body, antibodies are the equivalent of soldier ants in an ant colony. They identify strange elements (diseases) and stop them from causing harm to the body either by killing them or slowing down their reproduction.
Medicine and Antibodies
The discovery of antibodies was a great step forward for science. Rather than just wait for the antibodies to do their thing, medicine has taken a step forward by triggering them in the following ways:
1.Vaccination: Most vaccines work by triggering antibodies to put the body’s immune system on alert. The idea behind a vaccine is to introduce a small and innocuous amount of the disease we are trying to prevent into an individual’s body. When this happens, antibodies are triggered and produced, such that when an actual infection occurs, the immune system can fight it off.
The good thing about antibodies is that they last a very long time in the body system. It is why some immunizations/vaccines can be taken just once in a lifetime, and the person can be assured that any infection in the future will be taken care of;this is referred to as immunological memory.
2.Plasma Transfer: In a more direct approach, human plasma samples can be obtained from an individual who was able to recover from a viral infection (hence, their bodies must have secreted antibodies). The samples are then introduced into the bodies of patients currently battling the disease. This strengthens the patients’ immune systems and helps them fight off the virus.
Why hasn’t this worked for the Coronavirus?
True, the outlook is quite positive, and there’s a great deal of potential in using antibodies to fight viruses. However, it takes time to identify the exact antibodies and create appropriate vaccines to trigger them.
Also, experts do say that the coronavirus mutates, howbeit not as fast as the seasonal flu. This also makes the search for a vaccine a little more complex as we have to be sure that any antibodies activated by a vaccine will not be unable to fight a new strain of the virus in the future.
An important advantage
While antibodies have not given us the much-desired vaccine yet, they have been useful in a very significant way which is antibody testing. The regular coronavirus tests can only show currently infected individuals and this can be misleading because some patients can be asymptomatic and recover before getting tested, leading to the incorrect assumption that they were never infected.
With antibody testing, however, it can be shown whether a person currently has or have had the virus at any time in the past by checking the antibodies that are present in the individual. This helps in two ways: First of all, by understanding infection history, researchers can more effectively map the outbreak pattern to better understand the nature of the virus.
Secondly, antibody tests reveal individuals who are potential candidates for plasma donation in treating presently infected patients.
While we await the ultimate vaccine, which is our best bet to overcoming the virus for good, antibody testing can give us some small wins in the meantime.