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Herd immunity study currently underway at Franciscan University

STUDY WORK — Biology major Michael Rohall and Kyle McKenna, a biology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, prepare to analyze blood samples for coronavirus specific antibodies. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — A research study under way in Franciscan University of Steubenville’s School of Natural and Applied Sciences aims to help the medical and scientific community better understand SARS-COV-2 coronavirus exposure.

The study, spearheaded by biology professor Kyle McKenna, seeks to know the extent to which herd immunity has been achieved on the Franciscan University campus.

The goal is to evaluate more than 500 individuals, primarily students, but also faculty and staff, by the end of the month, said McKenna. So far, more than 200 individuals have had blood drawn by senior nursing majors, which is then evaluated for coronavirus specific antibodies by biology students performing mentored-research in McKenna’s lab for course credit.

“We want to know what percentage of people on campus demonstrate an immune response to SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said McKenna. “To achieve herd immunity which limits transmission of the virus, you need at least 60 to 70 percent of a given population to be resistant to infection, either through exposure to the virus or vaccination.”

McKenna added the study has a pro-life component, as care was taken to select and modify a commercially available antibody test so that no cell lines that were derived from aborted fetal tissue were used to produce reagents for the test. Eventually, McKenna says the goal is to develop an in-house test that is free from the use of cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue.

Initial costs for the research were covered by the biology department and the Franciscan Institute of Science and Health. More recently, the study received funding from a grant McKenna received from the American Life League.

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