In-Depth: UC San Diego Health study aims to 'ZAP' COVID-19

Study will analyze neutralizing antibodies
Posted at 6:07 AM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 10:20:19-05

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) - A new study at UC San Diego Health hopes to analyze the levels of COVID-19 antibodies in students and staff to "assess a person's risk of contracting the virus."

The "ZAP COVID-19 Study" (NeutraliZing Antibody Project for COVID-19) is open to all UC San Diego students, staff, faculty, and employees. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris Longhurst says it can help answer some of the lingering questions surrounding COVID immunity.

"Is the virus going to be something that comes every year, and will previous infection and vaccination continue to protect you?" Longhurst asks. "Will these antibodies wane with time? Does the vaccine produce antibodies that last more than two or three months, as many of the studies suggest? Is there a reason to do a fourth or fifth booster? Or should we wait for variant-specific boosters? All of these questions will help to get better answers through the neutralizing antibody study."

UC San Diego students and staff will have the chance to participate in the voluntary study when they take their school-required COVID-19 self-test. In addition to taking the nasal swab, they can do a small finger prick to give a blood sample.

"We'll be using that will be able to test for neutralizing antibodies in a large population," Dr. Longhurst says. UC San Diego has more than 40,000 students and 35,000 employees, offering a vast sample size for a scientific study.

"In this population, we also have a lot of information about vaccination status and natural infections from testing," Dr. Longhurst adds.

By comparing the levels of neutralizing antibodies present in the blood samples with their corresponding vaccine or prior infection status, Dr. Longhurst says the study will learn how antibody levels wane over time and if they still offer protection as time goes on.

Longhurst says studies have clearly shown that vaccines will help people avoid severe infection from COVID-19. Still, he says this study will help scientists know how effectively they can prevent infections.

"I think it is clear that coronavirus is a rapidly mutating virus, and today we do not have a vaccine that can prevent against infection with upcoming variants," he says.

"(This is) an opportunity for us to learn a lot more about how neutralizing antibodies can protect us from COVID either after a natural infection or immunization."

Click here to learn more about the study or sign up to participate.