New study will look at how the immune system responds to COVID-19

Friday, 11 September 2020

A new study will look at how many nurses and doctors have been infected with COVID-19 and how the immune system responds to the virus.

Information from the study will contribute towards future plans on how to vaccinate healthcare workers effectively and strategies of preparing for potential surge in COVID-19. 

The research has been made possible thanks to a UK Research and Innovation –funded MRC grant of over £700k.

The severity of COVID-19 infection varies substantially among different groups of people. These differences may be down to how the virus provokes an immune response in the human body.

Researchers in Nottingham and London have been collecting blood samples from more than a thousand healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses, on a regular basis during the pandemic, including people who have had a severe infection, those who have had mild symptoms and people with no symptoms at all.

This new study will use results of the samples to assess how many, and which doctors and nurses have been infected with coronavirus and how the immune system responds to infection. 

Scientists and doctors at the University of Nottingham, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Queens Mary University London and University College London want to find out about antibodies produced against SARS-Cov2 virus and how many of them have already antibodies against other coronaviruses which confer immunity against COVID-19.

Professor Ana Valdes

Professor Ana Valdes, from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham and lead investigator of the study, said: “By measuring which healthcare workers develop antibodies, and how many have developed ‘neutralising’ antibodies, the ones that effectively protect against the virus, we can better understand the transmission of the virus within hospitals and the levels of immunity present among doctors and nurses in the NHS.” 

The gathered samples will be analysed for antibodies against the virus, to understand how the levels change over time and how many have antibodies that are able to fight the virus. The analyses will also look at how individual characteristics, such as sex and ethnicity, affect how a person’s body fights SARS CoV-2 virus. 

This study isn’t just about healthcare workers. Through the generous donation of blood from our healthcare workers we know about a cohort of people who have been exposed to SARS-Cov2 and have not become sick. These results are essential in explaining how and why some groups develop disease and others do not."
Ben Ollivere, Professor of Orthopaedic Trauma from the School of Medicine at the University, and joint lead of the study

Professor Guruprasad Aithal, Deputy Director of NIHR Nottingham BRC, and a researcher on the project, said that the study is able to address the question as to whether any biological factors contribute to the ethnic variations in the response to SARS CoV-2 virus infection. 

The study is a collaborative project and also includes experts from the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences – Professors Paddy Tighe, Jonathan Ball, Will Irving and Alex Tarr.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Ana Valdes from the School of Medicine at

Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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