Tracking COVID-19 by Testing Louisville Health Care Workers

JHFE grants $750,000 for project that plots coronavirus immunity

LOUISVILLE Just as the Co-Immunity Project began its first phase to test Louisville healthcare workers for COVID-19 and antibodies from the disease that may signal a level of immunity, the groundbreaking initiative received an infusion of funding that enabled it to build its infrastructure and scale up quickly.

The Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence provided a grant of $750,000 to the Co-Immunity Project — a collaboration between the University of Louisville Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute and the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council with Louisville’s three major health systems, Baptist Health, Norton Healthcare, and UofL Health. The innovative project, announced in mid-April, identified where the virus was found in a given community, how strong it was, and how it was moving geographically

Phase I focused on Louisville’s health care community and began its comprehensive coronavirus and antibody testing for health careworkers with the Louisville health systems the week of May 4. All testing was conducted at the individual hospitals.

The early funding from the JHFE, along with additional donations, meant researchers with the initiative didn’t lose valuable time in getting underway, said UofL Vice President for University Advancement Brad Shafer. “Time is of the essence with COVID-19, and this investment from JHFE, a consistent and integral partner of UofL, enabled the university, the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, and our health care partners to initiate this important work without delay,” Shafer said.

“The Co-Immunity Project is a critically important study that will help researchers develop an understanding of this virus and its prevalence in our community,” said JHFE Board Chair Linda Schuster. “As scientists around the world focus on developing effective treatments and ultimately a vaccine, it is more important than ever for the public and private sectors to work together to support this vital work.”

The Co-Immunity Project’s goal is to develop a real-time picture of the virus so decision makers can reopen Kentucky facilities safely and keep the public protected from a second wave of COVID-19. Beyond currently available diagnostic tests, the project also leverages cutting-edge antibody testing available at UofL to determine how much immunity was generated by such exposure, and to identify those with the best immune responses as donors of high-quality plasma for treating patients with advanced COVID-19.

The three-step antibody testing to understand and make use of patient immunity runs through the UofL Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CPM), which established a high-throughput, real-time assay for antibodies from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus variant that causes COVID-19. This comprehensive testing program identifies people with antibodies, their levels and quality, and tracks the evolution of the participants’ immunity. The CPM utilizes its Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, one of just 12 such facilities in the United States and the only one in Kentucky, to test for the neutralizing activity of the antibodies.

Scientists from across the globe will have access to the resulting anonymized data for future study on the effectiveness of antibody therapy. The data also may be used to better identify individuals who are better able to fight off the coronavirus and may have immunity from contracting the disease so decision-makers can reopen facilities safely and keep the public protected from a second wave of COVID-19.

Following Phase I testing of Louisville hospital workers, the next phases will expand testing to workers in long-term care facilities, and then to the general public. Participants can help in this crucial work by registering at co-immunityproject.com.