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Research Roundup: COVID-19 antibody test, viral spread amid deforestation, brain stimulation and depression

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of April 5-11.

New antibody test for novel coronavirus

A test to determine whether an individual has or has had COVID-19 was developed by researchers and launched on April 6 at Stanford Health Care.

The serological test works by detecting antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in blood plasma, which the body makes in response to viral infection. 

“Serological testing gives us a more comprehensive view of what’s happening in an individual who is infected, or has been infected, with the virus,” pathology chair and professor Thomas Montine told Stanford Medicine News. “We thought this was an urgent medical need, and the usual supply chains were unreliable, so we decided to build our own.”

The Stanford-developed test detects two different antibodies: IgM antibodies, which are made early in the immune response but quickly decrease, and IgG antibodies, which the body makes later in the infection but which persist for longer. The results from the antibody test take two to three days to process.

“It’s essential to have the right tools to understand the biology of the novel coronavirus,” Lloyd Minor, dean of the School of Medicine, told Stanford Medicine News. “This test takes us one step closer to answering the many public health questions about COVID-19.”

Land loss increases risk of animal-to-human viral transmission

As forest habitats for wild primates continue to dwindle, the transmission risk of animal-to-human viruses will increase, according to a study published on April 1 in “Landscape Ecology.”

“At a time when COVID-19 is causing an unprecedented level of economic, social and health devastation, it is essential that we think critically about how human behaviors increase our interactions with disease-infected animals,” environment and resources Ph.D. candidate Laura Bloomfield ’07 M.S. ’10 M.D. ’21 told Stanford News. “The combination of major environmental change, like deforestation, and poverty can spark the fire of a global pandemic.”

The researchers suggested that small buffer zones such as tree farms or reforestation projects should be implemented around highly biodiverse forests to decrease the likelihood of human-wild primate interactions.

“At the end of the day, land conservation and the reduction of forest fragmentation is our best bet to reduce human-wild animal interactions,” Tyler McIntosh B.S. ’16 M.S. ’18 told Stanford News.

Magnetic brain stimulation may treat severe depression

Magnetic brain stimulation decreased symptoms of depression in 90% of patients, reports a study published on April 6 in “American Journal of Psychiatry.”

The treatment, Stanford Accelerated Intelligent Neuromodulation Therapy (SAINT), is a form of transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating depression. SAINT improves on other forms of magnetic stimulation by increasing the number of magnetic pulses and targets the pulses based on an individual’s neurocircuitry.

Prior to receiving SAINT, all 21 participants were diagnosed with severe depression and had suicidal thoughts. After receiving the treatment, 19 of 21 participants reported not having depression symptoms, and none of the participants reported suicidal thoughts.

“There’s never been a therapy for treatment-resistant depression that’s broken 55% remission rates in open-label testing,” Nolan Williams, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences assistant professor, told Stanford Medicine News. “Electroconvulsive therapy is thought to be the gold standard, but it has only an average 48% remission rate in treatment-resistant depression. No one expected these kinds of results.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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