Stanford Taps Major League Baseball for Broad COVID-19 Antibody Study

Close up on drop of blood at finger tip
Close up view of a drop of blood on a finger. This could be accidental or the result of a medical finger prick for a blood test.

While SARS-CoV-2 continues its spread across the US—and the world—and governments continue work to slow its spread, there is recognition among public health officials that to properly set policy in the coming months, there will need to be a significant effort to boost antibody testing among a broad swath of the population to get better data on the overall infection rate.

One new study, launched yesterday by Stanford University researchers, will tap into the employees of Major League Baseball to test as many at 10,000 people across 27 of the 30 cities of the league to help determine how the virus has spread in metropolitan areas. The study will include not only players, their families, and team staff, but also concessionaires and other part-time employees in order to collect data across different populations and socio-economic classes.

The research will be run by Stanford Professor of Medicine Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., in cooperation with USC and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory (SMRTL) based in Salt Lake City, whose usual business provides testing services for organizations overseeing anti-doping programs.

According to a report by ESPN, the blood test, with samples provided via a simple finger prick, will look to detect both the IgG and IgM antibodies that indicate previous infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The goal of the study is to begin to develop a better understanding of the true infection rate in the general population. In a similar effort, the NIH is also recruiting 10,000 people from across the country for antibody testing.

“This is the first study of national scope where we’re going to get a read on a large number of communities throughout the United States to understand how extensive the spread of the virus has been,” Bhattacharya told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

According to Battacharya, MLB was chosen for no other reason than their ability and willingness to act quickly to commence the study. “I’ve reached out to others, but MLB moved by far the fastest. They’ve been enormously cooperative and flexible,” he said in the report. “We’re trying to set up a scientific study that would normally take years to set up, and it’s going to be a matter of weeks.”

The simple finger prick point-of-care test is being deployed at the participating teams and will deliver results in about 10 minutes. Test kits are being dispersed to employees taking part in the study today and Thursday. Data will be de-identified, though study participants will be asked to provide basic demographic information, as well as whether they have had contact with any people who developed COVID-19.

Depending on how quickly employees can be tested and the data compiled, the Stanford researchers aim to publish the results as quickly as one week from now.

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