CCT leads the charge to develop a COVID antibody test

CCT lab technicians led by program manager Colleen Cloud
Left to right: Colleen Cloud , Philip Heidt and Cindy Wang, the core team of lab technicians that worked tirelessly to validate the antibody tests.

The Center for Cellular Therapy (CCT) is an FDA registered cGMP level facility that meets the most rigorous standards in the aspect of processing of cells. When MUSC leadership reached out to Satish Nadig, M.D., D.Phil., medical director for the CCT, and asked him to lead a task force to develop a diagnostic antibody test as a response to the COVID pandemic, he organized an interdisciplinary group of MUSC researchers.

The team, led by Nadig and Shikhar Mehrotra, Ph.D., co-scientific director of the CCT, developed an antibody test in less than a month using plasmid from Mount Sinai Laboratory. According to Tara Duke, MLS, Quality Assurance Director of the CCT, developing this type of protocol could typically take up to six months, if not longer.

“What this team did was quite impressive,” she said. “And it’s a testament to their dedication and hard work - especially our lab technicians, who worked around the clock.”

Colleen Cloud, Program Manager, concurs. “It was amazing to see so many people working together on all the different aspects to get the antibody test up and running as quickly as possible.” Cloud adds that the core CCT lab technicians Philip Heidt and Cindy Wang are trained to work under pressure and tight timelines when working with cellular therapies.

“Working in a clean cell facility, our team is accustomed to a rigorous level of intensity,” said Cloud. “The same high standards we apply to cellular products helped as we pivoted to diagnostic studies.” One week after the test was validated, the team notified the FDA. Nadig said MUSC is highly confident in the testing done here because of the two-step process and because of the extensive validation done before it began offering the tests.

The lab started receiving requests for antibody testing from organizations outside of MUSC. As demand for the test grew, the lab needed more staffing. Many members of existing Department of Surgery labs volunteered while new personnel were recruited to join the effort.

During the first week that MUSC began offering this service, The Blood Connection sent between 1,000 and 1,400 samples each day, collected from donors across both states. The lab is now processing up to 3000 antibody tests a day. The test is useful at the population level to show how much COVID-19 is circulating in the community. And as tests continue to improve and scientists learn more about the novel coronavirus, individuals will be better able to make informed decisions about work and community events.