The space company has found a new frontier in the fight against COVID-19
Billionaire Elon Musk has launched a ground-breaking study of COVID-19 with help from workers at his space exploration company SpaceX. Results of an in-house research programme revealed insights about the possibility of reinfection among people who purportedly produce fewer antibodies.
SpaceX, in partnership with medical researchers from Harvard and MIT, asked thousands of employees to volunteer for a programme that would collect their blood samples on a monthly basis and test their production of antibodies and overall immunity against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, The Wall Street Journal first reported.
Of the 4,300 workers who took part in the programme, 120 contracted COVID-19 but 61% were said to have been asymptomatic, according to the study co-authored by Musk and published in the journal Nature Communications.
Findings showed patients who had mild symptoms had a lower chance for long-term immunity. As such, individuals who had fewer antibodies during their first infection were thus more likely to contract the virus again.
“People can have antibodies, but it doesn’t mean they are going to be immune,” said Harvard professor Dr. Galit Alter, a co-author of the SpaceX study.
Researchers observed, however, that some COVID vaccines have the potential to induce antibody production, Dr. Alter told the WSJ. Experts believe this effect can help fend off future infections.
SpaceX launched the programme in April but has continued to monitor employees just as the US intensifies its vaccination drive. The space company has converted a number of its medical facilities into blood-testing sites, and enlisted the help of medical interns to facilitate blood extractions.
Musk, who revealed he was COVID-positive in November last year, has taken active part in monitoring the results of the study and learning more about the link between antibodies and reinfection. It remains to be seen, however, if the SpaceX founder – who earlier said he would not sign up for vaccination – is reconsidering his stance on inoculation.