How the UKRI community is helping
- A taste of the work being done to bolster UK testing capacity
- Some of the other highlights we have seen
- Quadrum Institute scientists volunteer to help process thousands of COVID-19 tests
- Leeds and York researchers join forces to pinpoint COVID-19
- Daresbury Laboratory donates 3D-printed PPE to NHS
- UKCEH supports emergency response
The researchers and innovators UKRI work with are supporting the effort to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and around the world, in every way they can. We are sharing equipment, repurposing facilities and volunteering scientific expertise from our Centres, Institutes and Units up and down the country.
From donating equipment and volunteering, to adapting their expertise to design and rapidly manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), our communities are working proactively to help combat the impacts of COVID-19.
This includes providing essential equipment to hospitals, volunteering on the NHS frontline or as experienced scientists at testing centres. We are also repurposing our own facilities as testing facilities where we can.
Our research staff are also spearheading research to untangle the virus’s inner workings, improve diagnostic testing and develop therapies and vaccines.
Thank you all, for your hard work and dedication.
- Thousands of UKRI researchers have volunteered their time and expertise. Experts from UKRI’s Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (coined the UK’s Nobel Prize Factory) for example, are volunteering at the new National Testing Centre set up by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) in Milton Keynes.
- Researchers from The Francis Crick Institute (co-founded by MRCl) have repurposed their lab facilities as a testing facility.
- As part of a Rutherford Appleton Laboratories initiative, the Rosalind Franklin Institute (funded by EPSRC) has collected 50,000 items of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to donate to the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
- The University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM), which includes the MRC Human Genetics Unit has prepared a hybrid NHS/academic COVID-19 testing facility. They have repurposed laboratory space, tissue culture facilities, and have provided equipment and skilled volunteers. They hope to have the capacity to conduct at least 1000 tests per day soon. Professor Andrew Jackson (MRC Human Genetic Unit Edinburgh) has assembled over 1200 volunteer molecular biologists and technical staff from Edinburgh alone to help with testing.
- MRC Population Health Research Unit has seconded its laboratory director and five senior laboratory staff to head up the development of fully automated laboratory systems for PCR testing at UK Biocentre. Once established, the systems will be adopted by two testing facilities in Manchester and Scotland. Our researchers are overseeing the development of the facility from scratch, with the aim of achieving fully automated testing, and a target capability of performing more than 100,000 tests per day, as quickly as possible.
- MRC Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is responsible for the COVID19 diagnostic test in The Gambia. At present, they are the only testing centre in The Gambia. Tests are being conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.
- Funded by BBSRC, The Pirbright Institute was one of the first laboratories to loan its high-throughput diagnostic machines, supplying 13 machines in total to the UK’s national coronavirus testing centre in Milton Keynes. Sixty members of staff from Pirbright have volunteered to help at Public Health England (PHE) diagnostic centres across the country.
- At the MRC London Institute of Medical Science, 25 clinically-trained staff have been seconded to help the NHS - either on the frontline of COVID-19 patient care, or by back-filling important routine NHS commitments like diabetes management. This allows NHS staff to be redeployed. PCR machines and robotics equipment have been dispatched to support local and national COVID-19 testing stations.
- UK Dementia Research Institute, co-founded by MRC, has developed a coronavirus testing platform by repurposing high-throughput, robotic technology usually used to test for infections in vulnerable people such as those living with dementia. The system employs the same test being used by the NHS but can process many more samples at once, almost 1,000 coronavirus samples in a 12-hour period.
- Nottingham universities supply equipment for COVID-19 testing
Universities in Nottingham have supplied 16 machines to support the national effort in the fight against COVID-19. The machines, 13 from the University of Nottingham and three from Nottingham Trent University's Clifton Campus, can perform around 20,000 tests a day and have a total value of £1million.
Using a technique of testing called Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, the machines can also be used to test for other viruses such as Hepatitis C and influenzas. The equipment is normally used by researchers and will now assist in the national response to Covid-19.
More than 600 students from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham have volunteered to help local hospitals and support NHS staff or researchers responding to the requests from the national government.
- From beamlines to badger shields: STFC centre produces visors for frontline staff
The Instrument Support team at the STFC Isis Neutron and Muon Source in Oxfordshire has gone from upgrading beamlines and detector systems to producing visors for local NHS services, pharmacies and care workers.
After an appeal from a local GP who was finding it difficult to source visors, the ISIS support team decided to use their expertise to help. Within four days, an open source “badger shield” was designed by technician Josef Lewis. A short training video showed the team how to assemble the visors at home, and how to keep assembly areas clean. The technicians were also given guidance on wearing masks and gloves, and immediately sealing visors into zip lock bags for collection.
At last count over 400 visors had been distributed by the small, 15-strong team, with fantastic feedback from clinicians and healthcare workers. While the visors are not medical grade, they provide an extra layer of protection that front line workers find very valuable.
As Josef said: “Our ability to react in the moment, and deliver an end product, is something we need to do regularly in our roles, and that has really helped.
“It means a great deal to me to be able to support our country in this way and it makes me very proud.
Volunteers from Norwich Research Park are boosting COVID-19 testing capability in Norfolk and Waveney.
Scientists from across the park are working with staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) to help with the isolation and detection of viral RNA, part of the vital testing process of NHS workers.
NNUH is working in partnership with the Earlham Institute, John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Quadram Institute Bioscience, the University of East Anglia, Eastern Pathology Alliance and the Cotman Centre.
The additional resource could increase testing capacity more than seven-fold, providing thousands rather than hundreds of tests each day and delivering results within 24 hours.
Researchers at Leeds and York universities have refocused their efforts on work that will help towards a vaccine and antibody test for COVID-19.
They’re trying to produce a particular part of COVID-19 that protects the virus genome, which contains all the information the virus needs to reproduce. A critical part of the work is producing a 3-D image of the protein, which is where the Leeds researchers came in.
The cryo-electron microscopes at Leeds are the only ones of their kind in the north of England. Samples of the protein are frozen down to minus 180 degrees and the machine then takes thousands of images to examine the protein in fine detail. The researchers hope that capturing an image of the proteins at close to atomic level will help progress the development of tests and therapeutics.
STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory’s team operated their 3D printers on a 24/7 basis to produce a batch of PPE components for the Christie NHS Foundation Trust.
The 3D printed headbands were donated after staff worked through the Easter holidays to complete the first batch, and the lab has agreed to provide 100 per week to the Christie for as long as needed during the pandemic.
The Daresbury team also donated another batch to Print City at the University of Manchester, which is part of a consortium delivering PPE to Salford and Oldham NHS Trusts.
The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) has provided scientific expertise and donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to support the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UKCEH has donated thousands of items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to NHS workers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks, thousands of pairs of gloves, overshoe covers and spray suits are just some of the items donated to hospitals, air ambulance services and GP surgeries across the UK. A DNA sequencing machine was provided to a COVID-19 diagnostic testing centre in Milton Keynes, and several UKCEH scientists have signed up to voluntary laboratory support schemes, offering to help with testing.
UKCEH also used its international network to help with efforts to the response - 1500 face masks were sourced from two partner institutes in China - Yunnan University and the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.
Find out how UKRI-funded research has shaped our understanding of coronavirus, COVID-19 and epidemics – see the section Understanding coronavirus, COVID-19 and epidemics.