Our laboratories in Milton Keynes are being used to analyse swab samples to support the national effort against the coronavirus pandemic.
We are one of the three Lighthouse Labs – the biggest network of diagnostic testing facilities our country has ever seen.
We have expanded our operations rapidly to analyse swab samples to determine whether COVID-19 is present. Since being approached to provide this service we have repurposed existing laboratories and built new ones to provide the capacity required for such a significant undertaking.
We have been analysing swab samples manually since late March 2020. But even with an army of volunteer scientists on 12-hour shift patterns,
we knew that a manual testing process would only ever get us so far. To test tens of thousands of COVID-19 swabs every day requires an automated process -
a seismic shift to industrial scale. So whilst manually testing samples, we simultaneously developed a wholly automated process. Liquid handling robots and other
kit and machinery now fill our laboratories. It is this industrial scale testing that gives us the capacity to test tens of thousands of samples each day.
Find out more about how we transformed our laboratories for COVID-19 swab sample testing in the video below.
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You cannot be tested for COVID-19 at UK Biocentre
It’s very important to clarify that we are not a medical centre that tests people. If you need to be tested, you should contact https://111.nhs.uk/
a medical facility. It’s important we are able to focus on our role which is to analyse the swab samples.
How we test swab samples
Once someone has been tested for COVID-19 the swab sample is sent to our laboratories.
We receive samples from NHS Trusts on the front line and other testing sites, such as the temporary COVID-19 drive-through testing centres, as well as samples taken at keyworkers’ homes.
UK Biocentre experts analyse each swab sample to determine whether COVID-19 is present.
Expert manual analysis
We are meeting current demand and are working closely with PHE, the NHS and other partners to ensure our work is accurate and meets the highest standards.
We have expanded rapidly and expert scientists are working at our laboratories analysing the swabs that are sent us each day.
We currently have the capacity to test thousands of sample swabs for COVID-19 each day manually. But the manual process only takes us so far.
That’s why we have transformed our laboratories to increase our capacity.
Accurate results at scale through automation
We have expanded rapidly by installing state-of-the-art robotic equipment and other technology enabling us to analyse tens of thousands of samples each day.
Large amounts of equipment needed to provide a fully automated service are now installed. Accuracy will remain our number one priority and we will continue to work closely with the NHS and PHE to ensure we meet the highest standards every time. We are working very closely with partners and suppliers to ensure vital equipment needed for our work, some of which is in global short supply, reaches our laboratories.
Working with expert scientists to meet growing demand
To meet the growing demand, we are increasing the number of people working with us. From a staff team of just 35, we now have approximately 150 experts working with us. We will continue to expand to about 200 colleagues to deliver a high throughput, 24/7 analysis service for as long as is needed. We are very grateful to all the highly experienced molecular scientists, technicians and bioinformaticians who have volunteered to help us.
UK Biocentre is uniquely placed to support at this time
We have the capability to accurately analyse large volumes of samples and we have the space, expertise and capacity that enables us to rapidly expand so that we can deliver tens of thousands of results each day in Milton Keynes. Our facility is one of three specialist centres established to provide the highest quality analysis of samples at scale. We are working closely with our partners in Glasgow and Cheshire, and we are proud to acknowledge the many private and public organisations who are partnering us in this unprecedented effort, including Thermo Fisher Scientific, Tecan and Brookes, as well as PHE, NHS and DHSC.
Impact on existing research
Our priority is to support efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19. To help us meet this challenge we have suspended all routine research support services.
Dr Tony Cox, Chief Executive of UK Biocentre, said:
“Building a national infrastructure for high volume COVID-19 testing is an extraordinarily complex task. The speed and scale of
collaboration between individuals across industry and academia to support these efforts is unprecedented and underlines the crucial nature
of national co-operation in times of emergency. The shared sense of pace and purpose will maximise our ability to support wide scale testing,
and help us understand infection rates and the wider effects of control measures.”
Prof Peter Weissberg, Chairman of UK Biocentre, said:
“I am immensely proud of the way our scientists and other colleagues at Milton Keynes have risen to the challenge of providing this service. It has taken selfless dedication, immense hard work and flexibility to reconfigure our laboratories and working practices in such a short time. I am also enormously grateful to all those from outside our usual workforce, from both private and public sectors, who have offered their services and expertise to ensure we play our part in tackling the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime.”