Studies of St. Louis COVID-19 Patients Follow ‘Long-Haulers’ and Antibody Protection After Recovery

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer of Science & Technology

    Hospitalizations and treatment of COVID-19 patients have been followed closely on the Washington University Medical Campus. Hundreds of patients are followed for a couple of reasons. Researchers hope to learn more about those suffering from lasting health consequences and they want to discover more about the role of antibodies.

    Donors of convalescent plasma are enrolled in the antibody study. Convalescent plasma is donated to help hospitalized patients recover. Donors and their plasma may have antibodies against COVID-19, but for how long? Rachel Presti, MD, PhD, is the principal investigator.

    “We don’t know if you are protected or how long you’re protected, if you are,” said Presti.

    As the medical director of the Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit, Presti is hoping to learn how long antibodies could protect recovered patients from reinfection.

    “It just hasn’t been long enough to say definitively that this was completely resolved, and you had an antibody response and then you got infected again as opposed to maybe it was completely resolved and you are shedding virus for a long period time,” Presti said. “We don’t know when you’re not infectious and whether you can get it again or not.”

    Presti is also a collaborator for a study following COVID-19 long-haulers, those who are suffering from long-lasting health consequences for many weeks and months.  SARS-CoV-2 may cause long-term damage, not just to the lungs, and is capable of causing life-changing effects.

    “They have this brain fog, weakness or fatigue, shortness of breath that comes and goes, a lot of long-term symptoms,“ she said. “And we don’t know how often that happens, how many people have long-term symptoms, when does it eventually go away? Is there something different about the people who have long-term kind of syndromes and the people who get over it and never have any problems? And so to figure that out, we really need to actually see people (in the study).”

    The goal is to enroll 500 or more patients in both the antibody and ‘long COVID’ studies. Presti is also principal investigator of Washington University’s COVID-19 vaccine trials.

    “If we did get a vaccine that made an immune response, we would want to know how long does that immune response last? Maybe this is something like hepatitis B where you get your vaccination when you’re a baby, you never need it again and you’re protected; or maybe it’s something that’s more like influenza where we actually need to think about repeating the vaccine every year; or anywhere in between.”