Researchers are still scrambling to gather information regarding a coronavirus vaccine and possible immunity by studying antibodies. The NBA may play a key part in the latter, as players and personnel across the league have been invited to take part in an antibody study conducted by the Mayo Clinic.
Per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, teams were informed of the study this week with an invitation for both players and staff to take part. Volunteers are asked to complete a survey breaking down their level of potential exposure and would be sent the necessary testing materials from researchers. Phlebotomists will collect blood samples to send back to Mayo Clinic and results are said to be determined within two days. Unlike diagnostic testing – which officials throughout the NBA and other leagues insist is necessary to relaunch operations – antibody tests look for proteins within the blood from those who have contracted and recovered from the virus.
“It really has a couple of different potential goals in the sense that one is that it does help to assess the prevalence of antibodies within society in general and certainly for those players who participate with the NBA in terms of exposure,” NBA Director of Sports Medicine Dr. John DiFiori said of the study. “But it also is a study that is attempting to do sort of a higher-level validation of a tool that will be more easy at point of care or at home. So, it has two parts to it.”
This research requires broad groups of subjects, which has lead pro sports leagues to become desired participants for researchers. Some 10,000 personnel across the MLB signed on to participate in another antibody study last month. Volunteers spanned from players and team executives to ballpark employees to help researchers get widespread information from subjects of both sexes, ranging ages and risk-factors.
The NBA in particular could benefit from the antibody study as it can help determine those who may have had the virus but showed little or no symptoms. The 2019-20 season was suspended March 11 when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, and several others across the league have since contracted the virus. Teams remain in limbo whether the season will resume though Commissioner Adam Silver previously suggested that enough information may be available this month to determine next steps.
In the meantime, researchers are hopeful that studies like this can play a role in the eventual return of sports and other gatherings but warn it will take some time.
“I think this is one step towards understanding when we might be able to open things back up,” said Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, Chair of the Immunization and the Infection Prevention and Control Specialty Councils at the Mayo Clinic. “It’s certainly not that at the end of the study, we’re not going to be able to say, ‘OK, on X, Y and Z date everything can open up again.’”