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New COVID-19 research studies immunity

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Researchers at Indiana University’s School of Medicine are looking for volunteers to study immunity for COVID-19.

Volunteers will provide blood samples several times over the next two years for the “Development of Immunity after SARS-Cov2 Exposure and Recovery,” or DISCOVER study, led by Drs. Chandy John and Alka Khaitan. Khaitan said some samples will be tested immediately for any antibodies that may support immunity against COVID-19 while other samples will be tested later on to gauge how immunity may change over time. 

Four different groups of people — those who tested positive and were symptomatic, those who were positive but asymptomatic, people who did not have symptoms but were exposed to COVID-19, and those without symptoms and weren’t exposed — will be tested. 

Khaitan said it is important to test those who don’t believe they were exposed to the virus, and haven’t been tested because she believes some in the sample group likely will test positive for the disease. The immunity study, then, will help determine why they never developed symptoms. 

“By comparing people who have varying levels of symptoms and exposure to COVID-19, we’ll be able to get a better understanding of how immunity originates and how long it can last,” John said in a statement. “We want to look at immune responses in both children and adults, because understanding the development of immunity in both groups is important to guiding vaccine development, and to understanding how the virus spreads in the community, even in those without symptoms.”

This research could also be significant for Black Hoosiers. In Marion County, African Americans make up 26% of the 10,037 COVID-19 cases. 

“So far, our prevalence data from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and other reports definitely show a disproportionate infection in African Americans and other minority groups,” Khaitan said. “One component is certainly structural racism in society that leads to disparities in living situations, disparities in jobs that are available to them and known disparities in the health care system. It’s probably not attributed to one thing.”

Khaitan said higher mortality rates from COVID-19 in the Black community could also be related to a higher likelihood of comorbidities — such as diabetes and high blood pressure — or genetic differences. Khaitan urged African Americans and individuals from other minority groups to volunteer for the study to help researchers find an effective vaccine.

“We want a vaccine that works for everyone,” Khaitan said. “So if there are differences genetically, we need to know that.” 

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

Volunteer! 

To learn more about how you can volunteer for the DISCOVER study, visit https://research.indianactsi.org/

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