How widespread is the pandemic? Proposed global blood bank could provide missing answers

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Credit: Science Source

Michael Mina is out for blood—millions of samples, which a nascent effort dubbed the Global Immunological Observatory (GIO), would monitor for signs of pathogens spreading through the population. Instead of a telescope, it will rely on technology that can measure hundreds of thousands of distinct antibodies in a microliter of blood. If the GIO can overcome technical and logistical hurdles and find sustained funding, he says, it could provide a powerful tool for monitoring and responding to disease outbreaks.

For now, the idea is just a pilot project to track the spread of COVID-19. The stealthy spread of that disease through the population underscored the need for such a monitoring system, says Mina.

Mina wants to watch for outbreaks by looking for antibodies to infectious agents in regularly collected, anonymized blood samples from every possible source—blood banks, plasma collection centers, even the heel needle sticks of newborns, which are taken in most states from every baby in order to identify genetic diseases.


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Mina and his co-authors envision initially testing about 10,000 samples per day and later, if they secure funding to build up the project, some 100,000 per day for the United States alone. Even the smaller number would detect—far faster than the current reporting system—an outbreak of Zika virus in rural Louisiana, for example, or an eruption of West Nile virus in Colorado.

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