Randall Davis, M.D., professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, says his team’s overall studies have been focused on lymphocyte developmental regulation and its relationship to B cell malignancies and disease states.

“During the onset of the pandemic, I was concerned that many of my patients who have B cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and are immune compromised would be at great risk from the complications of COVID-19. Thus my laboratory adapted to the situation by developing an assay capable of detecting a potential correlate of immune protection.”

Davis explains that characterizing and quantitating antibodies capable of blocking entry of the virus—via interactions between the spike protein and the ACE2 receptor—enabled multiple collaborations with colleagues internally in infectious disease, pathology/blood bank, radiology, pulmonology, and other areas, as well as with virologists/microbiologists and immunologists outside of UAB.

“With this assay we have been able to actively screen convalescent plasma to ensure the presence of high-titer neutralizing antibodies for infusion into patients with COVID-19 at UAB.”

More recently, Davis’s team has been examining this parameter in vaccine recipients. “We are learning about the timing of antibody responses to RNA vaccines, the capacity to respond, and the durability of these antibodies.”

Davis says that his team has accomplished many of the goals that they originally set forth with the emergency funds. “We expect this foray will yield additional future returns.”

Plus, Davis notes that what regulates the variability in responses and the B cell origins of these antibodies requires further scrutiny and investigation. “As a result of these studies, we have applied for external funding to maintain this work and redirect it back to our overall long term goals on lymphocyte developmental regulation.”