NCI Serological Sciences Network for COVID-19 (SeroNet)
The NCI Serological Sciences Network (SeroNet) is the nation’s largest coordinated effort to study the immune response to COVID-19. The network aims to combat the pandemic by improving the ability to test for infection, especially among diverse populations, and speed the development of treatments and vaccines.
Research conducted as part of SeroNet aims to answer questions such as:
- Why do some people who are exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, get sick and others don’t?
- What is the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the United States across age groups, racial/ethnic groups, and urban and rural populations?
- Why do some people who are infected with SARS-CoV-2 have severe symptoms and others have mild symptoms?
- Can people get COVID-19 more than once?
- How does disease severity correlate with long-term immunity to reinfection?
- What genetic and environmental factors affect the immune response, and how long does immunity last?
- Why do people with certain health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, have an increased risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19?
SeroNet is led by NCI, in close collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and other parts of the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, and involves 25 of the nation’s top biomedical research institutions. The network was established using funds from an emergency appropriation of $306 million to NCI “to develop, validate, improve, and implement serological testing and associated technologies.” Lessons learned from SeroNet research can be applied immediately and may prove valuable to public health beyond the current pandemic.
The major components of the network are:
- Serological Sciences Centers of Excellence
NCI has awarded eight institutions U54 grants to conduct multiple research projects to characterize the immune responses to coronavirus infection and learn about what drives immune response, disease progression, and protection against future infection.
- Research Projects in SARS-CoV-2 Serological Sciences
NCI awarded researchers at 13 institutions U01 grants to conduct research projects on basic and applied serological research.
- Serological Sciences Network Capacity Building Centers
NCI, through the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR), has awarded subcontracts to four research institutions to develop serological assays to test for coronavirus antibodies and to conduct serosurveillance studies. Each center will have the capacity to test at least 5,000 people per week and return results to people tested. The four centers are:
- Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
- Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research (Manhasset, NY)
- University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN)
- Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (New York, NY)
- FNLCR Serology Lab
NCI has expanded the HPV Serology Lab at FNLCR to conduct COVID-19 serology research. Since May 2020, the lab has been partnering with the Food and Drug Administration to conduct independent evaluations of commercially available antibody test kits to ensure that antibody tests available to the public are accurate and reliable. In the longer term, the lab is conducting research to understand what it means to be seropositive (for example, is an individual resistant to reinfection?) and to contribute to seropositivity research projects, including conducting a long-term clinical trial of COVID -19 in people with cancer. The serology lab has also developed the Human SARS-CoV-2 Serology Standard, a pool of plasma from four donors with antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. The FNLCR standard is available by request to labs conducting COVID-19 antibody testing to enhance cross-study comparisons.
- SeroNet Coordinating Center
Managed by FNLCR under NCI’s direction, the coordinating center facilitates activities and fosters collaboration across all SeroNet components.
SeroNet investigators have also created guidance documents for researchers conducting studies on the immune response to vaccines to encourage harmonization across studies and to allow for cross-study comparisons. The available documents include study design templates, standard operating procedures, and common data elements.