The facility, run by Dr Rocio Martinez-Nunez in collaboration with Viapath, aims to support efforts by the NHS to speed up testing for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The team has been awarded King’s Together Funding and is working with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals to help ease the burden of testing in the NHS. The team has also repurposed alternative reagents, specific chemicals used to determine the presence of the virus which are currently in short supply. Some of these reagents are nearly approved for use in testing at this facility as well as at other sites.
There is a worldwide need for massive testing – and reagents are in short supply. We have found alternative reagent combinations that we believe can relieve the burden on the NHS’s clinical labs. This will allow many labs to use multiple reagents and release the backflow of tests. The next stage is to benchmark all protocols for use in the wider population and other laboratories.– Dr Martinez-Nunez, School of Immunology and Microbial Sciences at King’s
She continued: “We have built a testing facility on campus to relieve the pressure on the NHS. We have worked out a way to inactivate samples using heat. The samples come in tubes and we must open them in a certain way – with protective equipment, in a sterile and safe environment.
“If we inactivate the sample, the virus is not harmful anymore. This means we can open the samples safely and process them much more quickly.”
A team of over 120 volunteers, made up of PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, research assistants and academics, have worked round the clock to develop and optimise several alternative protocols.
Dr Martinez-Nunez said: “Some people are helping from their homes. They might have children and they come in for half a day to do as much as they can. People are adapting to an ever-changing situation. The energy and enthusiasm people have shown is incredible. Within the horror of the pandemic we have found that people really want to help. It’s a ray of light.”
The vital work will extend beyond the UK and be shared with the international community.
The volunteers include (in A to Z) and with thanks to all of them:
Adrian Signell, Angel Menendez-Vazquez, Aoife O’Byrne, Celine Trouillet, Clement Bouton, Elena Ortiz-Zapater, Esperanza Perucha, Gilberto Betancor, Hannah Mischo, Harry Wilson, Helin Sertkaya, Juan Martin-Serrano, Kate Poulton, Maria Jose Lista, Mark Howard, Mattia Ficarelli, Michael Malim, Pedro Matos, Rob Page, Ruth Dickenson, Tom Maguire, Edward Scourfield, Evita Otigbah, Katie Doores, Luke Roberts, Monica Agromayor, Rui Pedro Ribeiro Galao, Semah Abdu, Stelios Papaioannou, Stuart Neil and Suzy Pickering.