Philanthropy advances world-leading coronavirus research

Philanthropy advances world-leading coronavirus research

David Walt, PhD, in his laboratory


“We developed a test 1,000 times more sensitive than any other serology test on the planet. By identifying whether a person’s blood contains certain antibodies, we can accurately tell who has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. The pace of progress is truly unprecedented.”
DAVID WALT, PHD


In the global race to develop effective COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, Brigham and Women’s Hospital leads the pack.

“We developed a test 1,000 times more sensitive than any other serology test on the planet,” says David Walt, PhD, a professor in the Department of Pathology at the Brigham and co-director of the Mass General Brigham (MGB) Center for COVID Innovation. “By identifying whether a person’s blood contains certain antibodies, we can accurately tell who has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. The pace of progress is truly unprecedented.”

Multiple institutions collaborated to develop this revolutionary serology test and reach other research milestones with the help of philanthropy. At the Brigham, contributions to the COVID-19 Response Fund have supported several areas, including research innovation, patient care, frontline staff support, and community health efforts. Walt and his team were able to quicken the pace of their work with early gifts for serology research, including a $2.5 million gift from Barbara and Amos Hostetter and a $100,000 gift from the Chleck Family Foundation.

An internationally recognized expert in nanoscience and diagnostics, Walt says the MGB Center for COVID Innovation’s serology test identifies specific antibodies—clear signs a person was exposed to COVID-19 and mounted an immune response, even if they had mild or no symptoms.

MGB scientists are now studying these antibodies to better understand whether patients who recovered from the virus are immune to reinfection—and, if so, how long that immunity lasts. This work paves the way for development of effective therapies, including vaccines.

Walt’s research will rapidly roll out the antibody tests and track as many as 50,000 people over time, enabling investigators to see trends in COVID-19 immune responses while watching for new outbreaks.

“We have 450 active collaborators,” says Walt of the MGB Center’s historic contributions to the COVID-19 response. “And we view those who have generously donated to this effort as an extension of our team. The entire collective creates a ‘how can we get things done’ culture to benefit the global community.”