Mark Cunningham

Reporter

The University is helping trade the spread of COVID-19 and processing test kits.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow are helping to trace the spread of COVID-19 and to process thousands of test kits each day in Scotland. 

Glasgow hosts one of the four major UK pop-up testing facilities known as Lighthouse labs, alongside Milton Keynes, Cheshire, and Cambridge. 

“We are building industrial testing capacity, at an unprecedented scale and pace. By setting up automated processes, this will enable us to analyse tens of thousands of swab samples every day, as our capacity increases”, says the Lighthouse Lab group. 

The Glasgow Lighthouse lab at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital opened on 22 April, exactly one month after the UK government imposed a national lockdown in response to the virus. It began processing tests from key workers first, later expanding to the general public with coronavirus symptoms. By mid-June, 200,000 test kits had been collected and processed through the lab, which is led by Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, head of the College of Medicinal, Veterinary and Life Sciences and University Vice-Principal. 

“This is a significant milestone, and one which highlights the importance of having the Lighthouse Labs supporting the national Covid-19 testing effort, alongside NHS testing facilities, in Scotland and across the UK”, said Dominiczak. 

The widescale testing is part of the government’s target of conducting 200,000 tests per day throughout the UK. 

Researchers at UofG are also tracing the introduction of the virus into Scotland as it emerged in early March. They concluded that the virus was brought into Scotland at least 113 times before the UK travel restrictions were imposed, resulting in various clusters of the outbreak. 

Emma Thomson, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said: “The speed at which the virus took hold in Scotland and the UK as a whole following multiple introductions, mainly from other European countries, was extremely rapid. It is possible an earlier lockdown from countries with a high burden of cases, such as Italy, and other measures such as quarantine of travellers from high-risk areas, might have prevented escalation of the outbreak and multiple clusters of ongoing community transmission.”

These findings suggest that the UK and Scottish governments response to the virus was not immediate enough to prevent its spreading. Their findings also showed that by 10th March, the virus had switched from travel-associated transmission to “sustained community transmission”, meaning the virus was quickly spreading through communities for two weeks before lockdown and travel restrictions were put in place. 

“Tracking the new coronavirus using sequencing and phylo-epidemiological analysis may help to inform our current response and the effect of public health interventions in real-time and is a tool that can be used to understand future infectious disease outbreaks of this nature," said Thomson.



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