MINNEAPOLIS -- Soon, Mayo Clinic hopes to have a reliable antibody test that would detect if the body has developed defenses to the coronavirus with just the prick of a patient's finger.
To further enhance the accuracy of that test, Mayo has enlisted the help of the NBA, including the Timberwolves, who have all become part of the clinic's comprehensive antibody test study. Researchers hope to glean more information about the body's response to a coronavirus infection and determine how widespread it has been statewide and nationwide.
It's a significant partnership between sports and medicine with the Wolves and their association with Mayo Clinic helping to spearhead the NBA's involvement in the study.
"Testing for antibodies is one thing and then the second part is interpreting it and saying what does that really mean?" said Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, a consultant in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Mayo Clinic. "I think it's going to be a few weeks before we know what the significance of the antibodies is. Does that mean people are truly protected or is there levels of antibodies that are protective?"
That's another question Mayo Clinic is hoping to answer in its study of antibodies -- what sort of immunity does the body have to re-infection?
Mayo Clinic, which currently has the capacity to perform around 20,000 antibody tests per day worldwide, according to a spokesperson, has collected samples from NBA players and staff using a blood draw and the finger-prick method. It is comparing the results of both tests to see if the finger prick is as reliable as the blood draw.
A finger-prick test is "a lot more convenient for everybody," Sampathkumar said, and researchers are trying to see whether they could use that method moving forward.
Sampathkumar said the NBA has been "very generous" in allowing the league to save the samples it collects to reanalyze for further information, like gauging how much immunity the body may develop after fighting off the virus.
"We'll be able to go back and rerun some tests on the samples, and continually get more information," she said. "So what we have now is a snapshot in time, and they're also willing to be retested at serial intervals."
The NBA was the first major professional sports league in North America to announce it was suspending its season, after Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus on March 11. The study can help the league garner more information about how it can safely resume its season.