In a new large-scale study called TestBoston, researchers at Brigham and Women's and the Broad Institute will facilitate at-home testing of 10,000 people for both coronavirus and antibodies against it.
TestBoston could detect clusters of COVID-19 in the region throughout the fall and winter amid concerns of a second surge and a recent rise in cases. Findings could also determine whether contracting the coronavirus once protects people from getting it again.
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“With ongoing limits on testing availability, we still face serious challenges to our understanding of how many people in Massachusetts have been infected and to our ability to detect new outbreaks," said Brigham infectious disease physician Ann Woolley, a leader of the program. The lack of testing has made coronavirus response, "all the more challenging," Woolley went on, because many people who don't show symptoms can spread it.
Clinicians and researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the MGB Center for COVID Innovation are launching the large-scale research study over the course of six months.
Each month, participants will get at-home testing kits in the mail that detect coronavirus and antibodies, along with instructions on how to collect samples. The coronavirus tests invovle a swab taken through the front of the nose and the antibody tests are taken through dried blood samples via finger prick.
Those samples will be picked up overnight and brought to the Broad Institute for analysis. People will receive their coronavirus test results and antibody results will be aggregated, in order to protect privacy, before being reported publicly.
Broad and the Brigham investigators will analyze the findings in real-time and share them with the state, including the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, so officials can respond to any potential coronavirus clusters.
Participants will also be asked to complete routine symptom surveys and will be able to request additional testing if they develop symptoms during the study period.
People who have been seen at any Brigham site within the past year and live within a 45-mile radius of Boston will be asked to participate in the trial. Qualified patients can enroll online.
Officials said the group of 10,000 Brigham patients "reflects the demographics of greater Boston," in an announcement about the initiative. Study materials will be available in eight different languages.
“The objective of our study is to provide at-home testing that pairs viral testing for active virus with antibody testing to give us a clearer picture of COVID-19 rates now and over time in different communities, as well as an understanding of who is getting infected,” said Brigham infectious disease physician Lisa Cosimi, a leader of the program. “We believe that this strategy of reaching patients at home is critical to being able to reach meaningful numbers of patients in order to have real impact.”
One of the team’s goals is to create a platform for home-based sample collection, integrated with medical and public health systems, that can be scaled if needed in case of a second surge.
“While it is impossible to fully understand a pandemic when one is in the midst of it, integrating clinical, research and public health efforts, as is the goal of TestBoston, is critical for learning in real- time how we can offer patients the best possible care and informing how we can overcome some of the inequities that currently exist, such as access to testing,” said Brigham infectious disease physician Deborah Hung, co-director of the Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program of the Broad Institute.