Tracking disease spread through a global blood ‘observatory’

Researchers are proposing a new strategy to quickly track outbreaks of diseases such as COVID-19—by testing for antibodies to infectious agents in millions of anonymized blood samples every day.

The strategy was outlined in a June 8, 2020 article in eLife by Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues.

Under an effort dubbed the “Global Immunological Observatory,” blood that is regularly collected from every possible source—including blood banks, plasma collection centers, and even the heel needle stick of newborns—would be anonymized and screened for signs of pathogens spreading in the population, according to a June 13, 2020 article in Science. The samples, which would be identified only by geographical area, would be tested for hundreds of thousands of antibodies using chip-based platforms.

Mina told Science that such a system could detect emerging outbreaks much faster and more comprehensively than current methods. He said the need for better disease surveillance became “starkly clear with the inability to identify and model local circulation of COVID-19 in a timely fashion.”

Read the eLife article: Science Forum: A Global Immunological Observatory to meet a time of pandemics

Read the Science article: Could a global ‘observatory’ of blood help stop the next pandemic?