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Air Force Research Laboratory aims to get ahead of the virus spread

Air Force Research Laboratory team member Joshua Trice collects a saliva sample from a teammate during a dry-run preparation on July 22, 2020, for an upcoming research study. For this study, led by the 711th Human Performance Wing, researchers will collect samples from healthy Wright-Patterson AFB military, civilian, and contractor volunteers to evaluate emerging testing methodologies for detecting past and present COVID-19 infections.

RICHARD ELDRIDGE/U.S. AIR FORCE

By THOMAS GNAU | Springfield News-Sun | Published: September 15, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is seeking healthy volunteers from the Dayton area for a COVID-19 antibodies research study.

The goal is a lofty one: To increase testing to 250,000 Department of Defense personnel a day, up from about 50,000 a week currently.

The bottom line is getting ahead of the spread of COVID-19, said Dr. Corey Hart, senior physiologist and a principal investigator at the 711th Human Performance Wing, which like AFRL is based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“It is ambitious, but it is necessary," Hart said in an interview Tuesday.

The research arm of the Air Force says it will use the anonymous test results to determine if there are COVID-19-related antibodies present in test participants who have been free of a confirmed exposure to the novel coronavirus.

To participate in the study, volunteers must be 18 or older with no clinically confirmed history of COVID-19 infection or exposure, Wright-Patterson said in a release Monday.

Participants will be asked to complete a health assessment and demographic questionnaire, submit a blood sample in person or with a take-home kit — or schedule an in-person appointment with an experienced AFRL employee to provide a saliva sample at an off-base facility.

Volunteers need not be affiliated with Wright-Patterson, the base said.

Early COVID-19 tests focused on people who exhibited symptoms or who thought they had been exposed to someone with symptoms. And we’re still pretty much there, Hart said.

But Hart and his fellow researchers want to perfect testing of those who are not showing symptoms, adopting a “surveillance approach" to combating the disease.

“That’s really the key to what we’re doing.” he said.

“Even when a vaccine does come out, we’re not going to be able to give it to everybody right away,” Hart noted, going on to stress that the Air Force is not involved in any kind of vaccine development.

If we can test more people more frequently, then we can catch those who are or have been asymptomatic, Hart said. The presence of antibodies -- proteins that help a body’s immune system kick in -- can give researchers clues to who has been infected with COVID-19, even if they haven’t exhibited symptoms.

“The antibody test allows us to see how widespread the disease is,” Hart said.

An AFRL spokesman said the study was previously open to base personnel only, but not enough volunteers have participated as of yet, so the study is now open to qualified Dayton-area residents overall.

Beavercreek defense contractor UES is working with the Air Force on the test.

“UES and our extended research team are incredibly proud to be supporting this research and the Air Force’s effort to better understand COVID-19 antibodies and related implications," said Dr. Stephaney Shanks, integrative health and performance sciences director at UES.

“We’re honored to be a trusted partner in this effort," said Nina Joshi, UES chief executive. "UES is ready and willing to support our customer community and region in anything we can add to the COVID-19 response.”

To participate in the study or to learn more, volunteers may contact the COVID-19 Science and Technology Testing Solutions Study at 711HPW.RH.COVID-19TestingResea@us.af.mil.

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