Scientists optimize SARS-CoV-2 protein production

A machine's screen showing protein washes and optimizations.

Upgraded process helps meet growing demand for antibody testing

Scientists successfully increased the yield production of a challenging protein used in antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. 

The Protein Expression Laboratory, part of the National Cancer Institute's RAS Initiative headquartered at the Frederick National Laboratory, has applied its expertise to produce key proteins needed for SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests. The proteins are being used in laboratories across the National Institutes of Health and at FNL. 

Researchers need steady source of a key—but tricky—protein

Large-scale SARS-CoV-2 serological surveys are underway in the United States, and laboratories need a reliable source of key proteins in sufficient quantity to determine how many adults with no confirmed history of COVID-19 actually possess antibodies to theA scientist works in the Protein Expression Laboratory novel coronavirus. 

The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is vital for these efforts. However, producing sufficient quantities to test thousands of blood samples was challenging due to its inherent instability.

High demand calls for higher protein yield

The laboratory delved into this process improvement as part of a collaboration with investigators across the National Institutes of Health seeking to create a SARS-CoV-2 antibody test with maximum sensitivity. This test was developed ahead of the NIH’s serosurvey with more than 10,000 participants, aiming to determine the extent COVID-19 has spread undetected in the United States.