BLAINE COUNTY — The Blaine County COVID STATS Research Project has been occurring for the past six months, and its primary purpose is to get an inside look at how the immune system works to fight off the virus.
After hearing from participants about their experience thus far in the study, Dr. Thomas Archie, one of the doctors in charge of the project wanted to discuss what exactly is being analyzed for medical professionals to learn.
Right now, the team working on the study is still in the process of collecting data from participants. Since this is the case, it will be some time before we hear of any results or findings.
Originally, doctors wanted 600 participants to have a larger sample size to help with their research. While they don't have the number of participants they wanted, several people in the study have contracted the virus.
“We have a total of 53 people in this study, and of them, four have been positive for Coronavirus," said Dr. Archie. "One this summer and three this fall. And those are picking up now just within the last half of September.”
Before the study, doctors took blood work from each participant to get a base sample of their cells prior to either getting COVID-19 or the vaccine so they could see any changes.
Now that some people have COVID-19, their blood will be drawn again to analyze their white blood cells. Specifically, participants' B Cells, which are responsible for generating antibody responses. Doctors are curious as to how quickly people can develop antibodies.
“On average, how quickly do people generate the different types of antibody responses, IgA, IgM, and IgG," said Dr. Archie. "Secondly, how long do they last? So we’ll track them out over time, those who did get sick with COVID.”
Doctors also hope this could help answer the question about why adults and seniors get sicker than young adults, teenagers, and kids. For this, doctors will be analyzing another white blood cell, T Cells, including T Memory Cells.
T Memory Cells is a type of T Cell that retains the ability to recognize specific pathogens including viruses for many years. Dr. Archie provided the example of some people who contracted the original SARS virus back in 2003 and still had T Memory Cells nearly 17 years after the fact, while their IgG levels dropped after 16 to 22 months.
When someone is regularly exposed to viruses, they typically have a head start in generating an antibody response to that virus.
The theory in discussion is that young adults, teenagers, and kids are better off, because they're closer in time to when they last immunologically faced a virus in that same family.
"We have this opportunity to gain an insight to whether, prior exposure to the Coronavirus family is important in generating T Memory Cell, offering any degree of protection against SARS CoV 2," said Dr. Archie. "And, if so, does that have an impact on how quickly or severely someone gets ill."
Since there are still plenty of questions to be answered, and only a fraction of participants have contracted COVID-19, and due to this recent surge of cases because of the Delta Variant, doctors have extended the project another six months in an attempt to collect more data.
“It increases the probability of a larger number of participants actually getting COVID-19 and then participating in the immune response part of it,” said Dr. Archie.