MU Researcher is Enrolling Patients in Study to Learn More About COVID-19 Variants and Mutations

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer of Science & Technology

    The University of Missouri School of Medicine is launching new research focused on the Delta variant and the immune response in patients who are infected.

    “We want to know how long their immunity lasts, are they protected against other variants,” said Mark Daniels, PhD, associate professor of surgery and molecular microbiology and immunology. “So we’re comparing how different is the response to this virus versus the other viruses.”

    As principal investigator, Daniels is starting the study with the enrollment of at least 100 participants infected by the Delta variant and any new variant the lab may identify.

    “We’re working with a number of labs across Missouri to give us patient samples. Then we can do sequencing and determine whether or not they’ve been infected with the variant,” he said. “And then we’ll reach out and contact those individuals to try to recruit them.”

    Daniels wants to see how the immune response differs between demographics.

    “We’re going to get unvaccinated individuals, we will get breakthrough individuals. We’ll get the demographic information, health information and public health information to determine why did they end up infected now versus later and a number of other questions we’re interested in.“

    The research will monitor participants’ immune response and test their antibodies against other variants. While working to identify positive Delta variant infections, it’s possible the research team can identify and study new variants that may emerge in Missouri.

    This new study has some similarities to another study Daniels is leading as principal investigator. That research is on the efficacy and longevity of COVID-19 vaccines. Daniels is closely following the immune response of about 600 vaccinated and partially vaccinated study participants for a period of one year. He wants to see how long protection lasts and how vaccination immunity differs from the immunity from natural infection. Daniels is analyzing the presence of antibodies in study participants’ blood with repeat blood samples to see how the immune response changes over time. The combined studies from Daniels’ lab may provide answers to many nagging questions.

    “Our biobank that we have is important in the fact that we can utilize that. We can take any pool of antibodies and test them against any pool of viruses,” Daniels explained. “ If we can see commonalities, (such as) is there a magic antibody that will treat or protect all the individuals independent of the variant from reinfection? Or can we develop a treatment that we could then provide? Is there something that is better or worse about different vaccines and their ability to protect? Is there something in the demographic of individuals? What do we really need to do? Do we need to have a booster? Do we need to design a more diverse vaccine or a better vaccine?”