Our laboratories in Milton Keynes are at the forefront of the national testing effort and we have now analysed more than 1 million swab samples to help the country get on top of the coronavirus. We are one of the four Lighthouse Labs
– the biggest network of diagnostic testing facilities our country has ever seen.
We have expanded our operations rapidly to analyse swab samples at scale 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 began analysing swab samples manually in late March 2020. But even with an army of volunteer scientists, 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.
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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 a range of sources including people’s homes and the COVID-19 drive-through testing centres. UK Biocentre experts analyse each swab sample to determine whether COVID-19 is present.
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 in a matter of hours each day. With the support of numerous partners, large amounts of equipment needed to provide a fully automated service have been installed. Accuracy remains 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 have increased the number of people working with us. From a staff team of just 35, we now have approximately 200 scientists working with us on shift patters 24/7. 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 to continue to expand our operations to meet testing demand. We are working closely with our partners in the Lighthouse Lab network 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 Brooks, 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.”