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The Department's buildings are currently open for wet laboratory work only. We have carried out a comprehensive COVID-19 risk assessment process and have introduced a number of new measures to ensure the safety of our staff, including reduced building occupancy, strict social distancing, 'family'-based working, and increased cleaning and hygiene regimes. All staff who can work remotely will do so for the foreseeable future. Please continue to contact us by email until further notice.

Department of Biochemistry

 
Illustration of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Development of multiplex serological assays for evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 immunity.

 

Serological tests are essential for us to know what portion of the population has been infected by SARS-CoV-2 as these will detect antibodies that our bodies have made to combat the virus. Antibody response is also important for determination of successful vaccination campaigns. These assays work by using recombinantly-produced proteins from SARS-CoV-2 virus to capture antibodies from serum samples. Infected individuals make antibodies against many of the virus components, with the resulting responses varying significantly in terms of their strength and their quality. It is essential that serological tests utilise the right viral proteins for them to work at high sensitivity and specificity to provide the correct results, reflecting the true status of the individual being tested, as this data is likely to guide government preventative measures and guidance in the future.

As specialists in the production of complicated proteins in E.coli, the Hyvönen Group and their collaborators are developing methods to make many of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins in large quantities and in very high quality in support of serological test development. We are also building libraries of linear epitopes from key immunogenic proteins in the virus, with particular focus on the receptor binding domain, as antibodies against this are likely to be able to neutralise the virus by preventing its entry into cells. Together with Andrew Flewitt (Department of Engineering), we are using these viral proteins to employ so-called FBAR sensor technology for COVID-19 serological tests. We aim to use up to 8 viral antigens in a single-use sensor device which will require only a pin-prick blood sample. If successful, this could result in an accurate and affordable test system that can be deployed in work places, transport hubs and in health care settings. In addition, we are using our peptide library approach to study the effectiveness of vaccine candidates here in the UK and in Brazil.

Project members

  • Aleksei Lulla

Project collaborators

  • Andrew Flewitt (Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, UK)
  • Ian Goodfellow and Stephen Baker (Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge, UK)
  • Florian Hollfelder (Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, UK)
  • Vasilis Kosmoliaptsis (Department of Surgery, University of Cambridge, UK)
  • Andrea Balan and Luis Souza Ferrera (University of Sao Paulo, Brazil)
  • Ansh Labs LLC (Houston, USA)
  • Apollo Therapeutics (Babraham Campus, Cambridge, UK)