Trinity scientists find new way to study transmissibility of Covid-19 variants

15 Oct 2021

Image: © blvdone/

Researchers at Trinity’s CRANN have developed new technology that could ‘improve and speed up the public health guidance process’ during the pandemic.

Scientists in Ireland have developed a new technique to quantify the transmissibility of Covid-19 variants, in a way that they say is faster and potentially cheaper than existing methods.

The nanomechanical technique developed by a team of researchers from Trinity College Dublin’s Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) can quantify the immune response induced by different Covid-19 variants in serum. This could provide a new way to track infection immunity and analyse new vaccine candidates.

The research was led by CRANN principal investigator Prof Martin Hegner and published in the Nanoscale Advances journal last month. Hegner is also a professor at Trinity’s School of Physics and his research focuses on developing new nanotechnological automated diagnostic platforms.

While existing methods such as the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) have the same sensitivity, the new technique has the potential do the job faster.

“Our measurements match the statistical analysis of, for example, the transmissibility of the Alpha variant that can otherwise only be gained by analysing the development of the disease proliferation within a population over weeks,” Hegner said. “We believe that this new technology can improve and speed up the public health guidance process.”

‘Variants of concern’ and vaccines

Hegner and his team focused their research on Covid-19 variants of concern and the corresponding humoral immune response each generates. Humoral response is a natural antibody-led immunity response when foreign material is detected in the body.

The World Health Organisation has designated Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta as current variants of concern due to their enhanced transmissibility, virulence, or decreased vaccine effectiveness. Because some of these variants have developed substantial mutations in the spike protein, they can undermine the efficacy of current vaccines and monoclonal antibody therapies.

However, the technology developed by Hegner and his team could assist vaccine development studies and bring down the cost of preparation protocols in existing assays.

“The direct technique greatly simplifies the preparation protocol that in ELISA includes many washings and waiting steps, hence reducing the amount of consumables needed and thus the relative cost. It will therefore be well suited to use in emergency situations,” Hegner added.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic