TestBoston, a large-scale research study that will facilitate at-home testing for both the SARS-CoV-2 virus and antibodies against it, is accepting applications from 10,000 current and former Brigham and Women’s Hospital patients.
Researchers from Harvard-affiliated Brigham, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the MGB Center for COVID Innovation said the test will detect active COVID-19 cases, evidence of previous infection, and changes in the rates of both.
Over the course of six months, participants will be sent monthly at-home test kits for viral and antibody testing. They will also complete routine symptom surveys and be able to request additional testing if they develop symptoms during the study period. Ongoing study results may reveal critical clues and additional warning signs about how COVID-19 cases are changing in the Greater Boston area, while also helping investigators establish a model for at-home sample collection that is integrated with a medical and public health system. Those interested in participating in the trial can enroll here.
TestBoston will invite participation of patients who have been seen at any Brigham site within the past year and live within a 45-mile radius of Boston. The study will involve individuals enrolling online and then receiving a kit in the mail with instructions on how to collect the samples.
Samples collected by participants at home will be picked up and returned overnight to the Broad Institute for analysis. Samples taken using a swab of the front of the nose will be tested for active viral infection with all results being returned to the participant. Samples taken from a dried blood spot obtained by a small finger prick will be tested for antibodies to determine whether the participant has had a previous infection. Antibody results will be aggregated — so that individuals are not identified — and reported at the community level. Together, Broad and the Brigham investigators will analyze all findings in real-time and share them with key stakeholders at the state level, including the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, to enable public health responses to cases of new infection.
The program will be led by Ann Woolley and Lisa Cosimi, both infectious disease physicians at the Brigham, and Deborah Hung, a core faculty member and co-director of the Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program of the Broad Institute as well as an infectious disease and critical care physician at the Brigham.
“With ongoing limits on testing availability, we still face serious challenges to our understanding of how many people in Massachusetts have been infected and to our ability to detect new outbreaks, which is made all the more challenging because we know that asymptomatic people can transmit this virus to others,” said Woolley.
“The objective of our study is to provide at-home testing that pairs viral testing for active virus with antibody testing to give us a clearer picture of COVID-19 rates now and over time in different communities, as well as an understanding of who is getting infected,” said Cosimi. “We believe that this strategy of reaching patients at home is critical to being able to reach meaningful numbers of patients in order to have real impact.”
One of the team’s goals is to create a platform for home-based sample collection that can be scaled, if needed, should the Boston area experience a second surge of COVID-19 infections. It can also be modeled in other cities impacted by COVID-19 and future respiratory viruses. The investigators hope TestBoston will empower communities to better understand and end COVID-19 by providing an opportunity for patients to partner in research and public health interventions.
“While it is impossible to fully understand a pandemic when one is in the midst of it, integrating clinical, research and public health efforts, as is the goal of TestBoston, is critical for learning in real- time how we can offer patients the best possible care and informing how we can overcome some of the inequities that currently exist, such as access to testing,” said Hung.
Adapted from a Brigham and Women’s news release.