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Over two years on from the initial outbreak of Covid-19, The Glasgow Guardian examines how researchers at the University of Glasgow contributed towards tackling the pandemic.

The MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) has played a significant role in the genetic surveillance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, numerous vaccine trials, and critical public health research which informed government policy. According to the University of Glasgow, the CVR has been working “at the heart of the Covid-19 research response in Scotland and the UK”.

In partnership with the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, UofG’s viral research team was responsible for rapidly sequencing Scotland’s first confirmed Covid cases in early March 2020, which was scientifically important for mapping the spreading behaviour of the virus. Later that month, it was named as one of 13 key centres in a pan-UK alliance of scientists which jointly composed the £20m Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium. Backed by the government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, this group of academics has been particularly crucial in enabling the process of identifying "variants of concern" and "variants under investigation" by sharing genomic data.

Professor Massimo Palmarini, Director of the CVR, told The Glasgow Guardian: “As the largest group of virologists in the UK with the facilities to handle samples from infected patients, the CVR was always best placed to react quickly and conduct pivotal research into Covid-19.” Additionally, Palmarini remarked that UofG’s dedicated research team and the institution’s international reputation have “put us at the forefront of Covid-19 efforts”.

"UofG’s dedicated research team and the institution’s international reputation have 'put us at the forefront of Covid-19 efforts.'"

Furthermore, UofG was vital in establishing a major Glasgow Covid testing facility. Located in the University’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus (QEUH), it operated on a 24/7 hour basis by virtue of 100 staff members and over 500 volunteers. By June 2020, the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab, which is hosted at QEUH, had officially processed more than 200,000 test samples after opening three months prior. Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, University of Glasgow Vice Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences tweeted: “I am hugely grateful to all the scientists, technicians & staff who are volunteering to make this new #COVID19 testing centre possible … I thank you - we owe you our gratitude.”

In addition, UofG has been praised for its involvement in Phase III of the University of Oxford’s vaccine trial, which focused on studying the effectiveness of the developing Covid-19 vaccine in humans. Led by Professor Emma Thomson and Professor Andrew Smith, the Glasgow branch initially invited frontline healthcare staff between 18-55 years old to assess the level of safety and effectiveness of immunisation in at-risk groups. The universities’ successful joint efforts resulted in the global administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, of which 2 billion doses were supplied around the world within 12 months following its initial approval.

UofG has also been engaged with crucial social aspects of pandemic research. For instance, scientists at the University of Glasgow found in May 2020 that Black and South Asian ethnic groups in England experience a higher risk of Covid-19 infection and severe disease, partially due to differences in socioeconomic circumstances. UofG’s Dr Vittal Katikireddi urged the scientific community to further investigate the underlying factors causing this disproportionate increase in risk.

Additionally, an 18-month long project was announced in March 2021 with the aim of analysing the effects of the pandemic’s touch deprivation on the deafblind community. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council intends to document the social experience of individuals with audio-visual impairment during Covid-19, in order to facilitate safe and reliable communication strategies going forward.

Moreover, the University of Glasgow has conducted a number of studies regarding the psychological impact of lockdowns and pandemic-related social distancing measures on mental health. In collaboration with Samaritans, the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), and the Mindstep Foundation, academics surveyed the emotional wellbeing of a national sample of 3,077 adults residing in the UK. The long-term study concluded that suicidal thoughts increased over the first six weeks of UK lockdown in one in 10 participants. The concerning rise in depressive symptoms was especially prevalent amongst women, young people aged 18-29 years, and individuals from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds.

"...the University of Glasgow has conducted a number of studies regarding the psychological impact of lockdowns and pandemic-related social distancing measures on mental health."

In light of Glasgow University’s psychological research, Dr Liz Scowcroft, Samaritans Head of Research and Evaluation, declared that “the findings from this study are stark and leave us with no doubt that Covid-19 has had a detrimental impact on the nation's mental health.” Referring to the importance of suicide prevention, she elaborated: “As we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, it is a priority for us to reach those struggling to cope and encourage them to seek help before they reach crisis point.”

Professor Iain McInnes, University of Glasgow Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences told The Glasgow Guardian: “We are extremely proud of the vital work colleagues across the university have carried out throughout the pandemic.” Noting UofG’s substantial involvement with wide-ranging Coronavirus research, he added that “the pandemic work carried out at the University of Glasgow truly is world-leading.”

For more information regarding the University of Glasgow’s Covid-19 research, click here.


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