University of Dundee

Dundee expertise aids COVID-19 testing effort

03 Apr 2020

The University of Dundee has helped establish Scotland’s central COVID-19 testing facility in support of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The centre, based at the University of Glasgow, was announced by the UK Government yesterday as part of a series of measures to increase testing and response to the spread of COVID-19 across the UK. It will be opened in collaboration with the Scottish Government and industry experts from BioAscent Discovery Ltd and Dundee’s Drug Discovery Unit (DDU).

The World Health Organisation has consistently advised that one of the key ways to curb the spread of COVID-19 is to carry out as much testing as possible. With the addition of this new facility, Scotland has gained the capacity to carry out substantially more COVID-19 tests per day.

David Gray, Head of Biology and Professor of Translational Biology at the DDU, played an integral role in the design and implementation of the Scottish testing centre and has also advised on operating procedures.

Professor Gray said, “The increase of testing capabilities will undoubtedly help to save lives and ease the burden on the NHS so I was pleased to be able to bring my skills to bear on this global problem. I have been incredibly impressed and gratified by the rapid offers of help from colleagues across industry and academia, and from our many suppliers.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to help the local, national and international efforts to fight COVID-19. The cooperation and determination across this and other institutions is exceptional.”

The site is already designed to meet industrial scale standards and will be able to begin testing in mid-April. It will be staffed on a 24/7 basis by more than 500 volunteers including highly-experienced molecular scientists, technicians and bioinformaticians – all with the relevant skills and experience to carry out COVID-19 testing. All the scientists and technicians involved have volunteered their services to assist the NHS at this critical time.

The Glasgow centre is one of a number of new hub laboratories to be opened in order to increase COVID-19 testing during the crisis. The centres will be coordinated by the Medicines Discovery Catapult, and the project supported by partners Thermo Fisher Scientific, Amazon, Boots and Royal Mail, alongside the Wellcome Trust.

Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman said, “I am very grateful to Glasgow University and experts from BioAscent and Dundee University, together with the many skilled volunteers who have come forward to work in the centre, for taking the lead in establishing this testing centre. This is clearly a major undertaking. When it becomes operational, the centre will make a significant difference in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The University of Dundee is assisting the national effort to combat coronavirus in many ways, including:

  • Providing two highly specialised Thermo KingFisher Flex robots from the lab of Professor Angus Lamond in the School of Life Sciences for the national diagnostic centre in Milton Keynes, following a direct request from the Prime Minister.
  • The MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (MRC-PPU) identifying 28 separate proteins of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – that produce an immune response in the body. Over the next four months, the Dundee team will manufacture these components of the virus in order to generate antibodies against them. These research tools will then be used to study the virus.
  • Professor Gunnar Hornig, of Mathematics, coordinating Dundee’s response to the Royal Society’s call for modellers to support epidemic modelling.
  • Dundee becoming one of the first UK cancer centres to join the UK Cancer Coronavirus Monitoring Network. This will feed anonymised information on patient care into a database accessible to medical experts across the country to allow healthcare professionals to identify effective treatments for cancer patients impacted by the pandemic.

 

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