Lodi native working on COVID-19 antibody test

Rebecca DuBois is an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz. Source: UCSC website

A former Lodian is hoping to release information to the public in the coming months that could help the medical community in its fight against the coronavirus.

Rebecca DuBois, an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California Santa Cruz, is currently developing a sterilogical test to look at the level of antibodies in an individual who has recovered from coronavirus.

The test should give medical professionals a good indication at whether or not someone could be infected with the virus a second time, DuBois said.

“We all have antibodies in our bloodstream, and they’ll wane over time,” DuBois said. “In the long-term, instead of just saying yes you had it, or no you didn’t, this test is saying you have the antibody for the virus now, let’s check it again in a few months and figure out what is the appropriate level to keep it out.”

While the physical testing kits for DuBois’ research are probably months away, she and her team plan to release the findings of their study in about another month, she said.

However, in order to achieve that, her research needs funding. She’s hoping much of that funding comes from sales of the “Going Viral” wine soon to be released by Lodi’s Michael David Winery.

DuBois’ parents, Michael and Kristi Phillips, said they have produced 750 cases of the new Merlot, and every cent will be earmarked for her research. Her parents believe as much as $250,000 will be generated from the wine sales.

“I’m just super-appreciative of the support via the wine,” she said. “It’s going to make a big impact to help get information out to the public. Funding and support is something us scientists really need to make our research available.”

If any of the COVID-19 antibody tests are made available to the public, DuBois said they will probably be small, three-strip tests similar to those for home-pregnancy tests.

DuBois would like to see the tests developed into a finger-prick method, where the drop of blood is transported to a lab for further examination.

With a focus on virology and vaccine development, DuBois is no stranger to studying the effects of viral infections.

She has mapped the structure of the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, molecule found mostly in children. She said she was inspired to do so after working at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in San Francisco, and becoming acquainted with how that virus affects both healthy children and those diagnosed with cancer.

Last year, she was able to obtain grant funding to develop a vaccine for the virus, of which she is also currently working on.

Her worked inspired the label artwork of the “Going Viral” wine produced by her family, her father said earlier this week.

DuBois also worked on developing an influenza vaccine in 2009, during the height of H1N1 pandemic.

“She’s on the cutting edge of finding new stuff all the time,” Michael Phillips said. “She’s right there with all the other big labs in the country, although I think she might be ahead of them a little. She thinks I’m famous for wine, and I say she’s going to be famous for doing things that will eventually save lives.”

DuBois said she always had an interest in science in school, but never imagined she’d be developing new ways to look at infections, or even the vaccines for them.

“When I was at Lodi High School we did the petrie dish experiment,” she said. “I was super pumped to have so many different colors of germs. I had really wonderful teachers that encouraged me to pursue a career in science. But I didn’t expect I’d be working on these kinds of viruses.”

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