Ulster University professors are helping to develop a Covid-19 antibody test people could use at home to determine whether they had the virus.
With more people seeking antibody tests to find out how many of us have had the virus in recent months, I took part in the university's drive-thru testing initiative last weekend.
This pandemic study, led by Professors Tara Moore and Jim McLaughlin on the university's Jordanstown campus, allowed over 2,000 people to have access to a free ABC-19 IgG neutralising antibody test from the comfort of their own cars. The outcome of this testing will inform the approval of such a test for self-use.
The trial was to determine if people aged from eight to 80 could perform the test by themselves and correctly interpret the result. Some participants who tested antibody positive are offered the opportunity to be assessed for up to one year, to see how long antibodies are present.
The Ulster University professors leading the trial are part of the UK Government Rapid Test Consortium (UK RTC) through CIGA Healthcare, and the UK RTC developer finger-prick antibody test was used by the Pandemic Team at Ulster University.
I travelled to Jordanstown campus for the antibody test and was directed to a volunteer who checked my details and gave me a box containing the test.
The test works by pricking your finger with a needle like device called a lancet, creating a small amount of blood. I collected this in the blood collector provided and placed it into the test, before placing the test solution on it. After 20 minutes, your test shows up as positive or negative, with instructions on how to view your results provided.
After completing the test, participants are rejoined by a volunteer who can discuss any issues and feedback with you.
While I had a positive experience, my test came back negative, which was both a relief and worrying. A week before the UK lockdown in March, I called in sick to work and began self-isolating due to coronavirus symptoms. I woke up one morning with a high fever, aches, and pains, and was convinced I had some form of the virus.
However, the results from the antibody test only stretch back 12 weeks, meaning I may well have had the virus back in March, but it is just too late to detect antibodies.
One of the professors leading the pandemic study, Professor Tara Moore, said they are immensely grateful to the people of Northern Ireland for giving their time to undertake the test and to Kingsbridge Healthcare Group for providing medical supplies for blood sampling.
"This is vital research, a user experience study that is essential to inform the final design of this antibody testing process. The study also goes part way to telling us about exposure to the virus that is causing the current pandemic that we are all trying to live and work in," she added.
Jonathan Stewart, the director of the British Council in Northern Ireland, was also a participant in the testing at Ulster University last weekend.
He said: "It was a very fast and impressive drive-thru procedure with easy to interpret self-administration and diagnosis.
"From administering the test to diagnosis took only 20 minutes which is fantastic. The university staff and students administering the study were extremely efficient and helpful."