Norwich Research Park scientists join hospital in the fight against COVID-19

09 April 2020

Norfolk and Waveney is to receive a major boost to its capacity for COVID-19 testing of frontline NHS workers thanks to the help of scientists at Norwich Research Park.

Volunteers from all research organisations on the Park are working together 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 see testing capacity increase more than seven-fold in the long-term, providing thousands rather than hundreds of tests each day while still delivering results within 24 hours.

Frontline NHS staff in key roles, such as critical care workers, paramedics, emergency department staff, and primary care staff will be eligible if they or a household contact develop symptoms of COVID-19. A facility at Norwich Research Park will be dedicated to the testing of NHS staff and their household contacts. 

By substantially reducing the 7 or 14 day self-isolation period, NHS staff will be able to return to work more quickly to provide care for patients across Norfolk and Waveney. 

A small number of appointments will be offered initially across the Norfolk and Waveney health system, with the capacity increasing as the volunteers from Norwich Research Park boost the ability of the NHS to test staff. The Park is also providing a dedicated drive-through facility where swab samples can be safely collected, before being sent to the labs for testing.

In the meantime, members of the public should continue to follow the advice available from the NHS 111 website.

Sam Higginson, Chief Executive at NNUH, said: “Quick and reliable testing is an essential part of the national effort to protect the NHS and save lives. 

“We are starting to test key clinical staff for COVID-19 in line with national guidelines. The expectation is that staff in key clinical roles will be tested to support our staffing through the pandemic.”

Testing for the virus involves collecting viral RNA - the material found in a virus that contains the instructions for how to make copies of itself - and then amplifying the sample to create enough material for reliable testing. This is usually done through polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which ensures even tiny trace amounts of viral RNA become detectable. 

Many of the scientists based at Norwich Research Park already have relevant expertise in the molecular techniques necessary for COVID-19 testing, allowing them to quickly get to work with minimal training.Professor

Neil Hall, Director of the Earlham Institute, said: “We’re fortunate to have world-leading scientists who can apply their skills to a range of problems. There couldn’t be a more immediate need than tackling this virus. Our volunteers will help more front-line NHS staff to safely return to what they do best - treating patients and saving lives.

“Our research normally focuses on developing technology to understand how genetics and the environment interact to create the beautiful and complex world we live in. Viruses are part of that world and we need to learn more about them so we can develop the tools to limit the death and suffering they cause in the future.”

Notes to editors

For media enquiries, please contact:

Rob Davies for Norwich Research Park - rob@oooc.co.uk or 07709 366310

Adam Gretton at NNUH - Adam.Gretton@nnuh.nhs.uk

Greg Jones at Earlham Institute – greg.jones@earlham.ac.uk or 01603 450 895

Notes to editors

In the interest of safety, there will be no access to the NNUH for filming. Please speak to the media contacts to discuss any filming or interview requests.

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research Institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) - £5.43m in 2017/18 - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.

www.earlham.ac.uk

@EarlhamInst

Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP (AIP LLP) is the body responsible for the running and development of Norwich Research Park.

Norwich Research Park is a partnership between the AIP LLP management team, the University of East Anglia, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, four independent world-renowned research institutes namely the John Innes Centre, the Quadram Institute and the Earlham Institute (all strategically funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of United Kingdom Research & Innovation (UKRI)) and The Sainsbury Laboratory linked to the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The BBSRC - UKRI and the John Innes Foundation are also partners.

From the soil to our health, our vision is to change lives and rethink society through pioneering research and innovation, reframing the future of research. Around 30,000 talented people, including 17,000 students, 3,000 researchers and clinicians, and over 115 companies are based on the Park, working at the cutting edge of understanding human, plant and soil health, food production and synthetic biology. www.norwichresearchpark.com