Are you aged 18 to 30? Have you had the dreaded coronavirus? Then Oxford University may well pay you £5000 to participate in a virology challenge study.
What is the study?
The university is hoping to carry out a study to investigate how our immune systems respond to being infected for the second time.
Those involved will be reinfected with coronavirus and will then be quarantined for 17 days. Whilst in quarantine, they’ll be looked after by researchers at the hospital until they are completely better.
Why is the study taking place?
According to Professor Helen McShane, the study, the chief investigator could help design tests that more accurately predict if people are protected from the virus.
Professor McShane explained that due to the nature of the Challenge study as a tightly controlled environment, it could tell scientists things that other studies cannot.
She then went on to say: “When we reinfect these participants, we will know exactly how their immune system has reacted to the first COVID infection, exactly when the second infection occurs and exactly how much virus they got.”
The study’s results could help to enhance our understanding of the virus and the immune response it triggers. It could also be the key to creating tests to accurately predict whether people are protected.
What is a challenge study?
This kind of study has been used for other diseases and the development of their treatments, and so it is no surprise that Oxford University, in hand with the Wellcome Trust, is organising one for COVID.
The World Health Organisation describe challenge trials as “trials in which participants are intentionally challenged (whether or not they have been vaccinated) with an infectious disease organism”.
How will the study work?
The study will undergo 2 phases. The first will involve 64 healthy volunteers. This will aim to understand and establish how much of the virus is needed before it begins replicating and taking hold. Once this dose is calculated, it will be used to infect the participants of the second phase.
The second phase will happen in the next few months. In it, the investigators will “measure the immune response at several time points after infection” to understand what immune response is triggered.
As the virus has multiple strains now, the investigators have had to choose which strain to use after a series of mutations. The study will be using the original Wuhan strain. Prof. McShane explained that this is “because that is the strain that we have the most clinical, immunological and virological data on”. However, there is a discussion to include other variants.
As mentioned, those infected will be put into an enforced quarantine. Any people who develop symptoms will be given a treatment that has in it lab-made antibodies known to reduce the risk of disease progression.
The study will take 12 months in total, including 8 follow up appointments for those involved.