University of York loans bioscience equipment to York Hospital to help in diagnosis of Coronavirus cases

9 April 2020

University of York loans bioscience equipment to York Hospital to help in diagnosis of Coronavirus cases

A piece of high-tech equipment used for the diagnosis of COVID-19 has been loaned to York Hospital by the University of York. 

The qPCR machine, loaned from the Department of Biology’s Bioscience Technology Facility, will almost double the hospital’s capacity to test samples taken from those suspected as having the virus, which medics say will help increase the speed of getting results back to patients.

This has been further supported by the University’s expert staff from within both the Department of Biology and Hull York Medical School (HYMS).

Dr Sally James and Dr Lesley Gilbert from the Genomics and Bioinformatics Lab at the University of York have been involved in installing the qPCR machine at the hospital, initiated by Dr Rachel Neish from the Department of Biology.

10 volunteers with key skills have been recruited from the University to increase the number of daily tests undertaken at York Hospital.

After successful validation of the diagnostic test, the first samples have been successfully processed and up to 1,000 tests can now be carried out each week.

Professor Jeremy Mottram from the Department of Biology and Director of the York Biomedical Research Institute said: “The availability of this equipment at the hospital will significantly increase the number of diagnosis tests for COVID-19 in York.  This should significantly increase the speed of getting the results back to the patient.

“The University has trained NHS staff at the hospital so that they can operate our version of the machine for day to day testing, with our volunteers adding even more capacity.”

Dr Dave Hamilton, Lead Clinician for Microbiology at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “ I’d like to thank Professor Jeremy Mottram and colleagues from across several departments at the University for their efforts. Health Protection England tell us testing is central to controlling COVID-19 so the resilience and extra tests the university team have provided are essential.

“Currently COVID-19 can only be diagnosed by a PCR test of a type not previously available in many hospital labs. Three weeks ago York Hospitals Microbiology Lab was not able to undertake any testing of this type.

“York Hospital now has capacity to undertake 160 COVID-19 tests daily and has undertaken over 1000 so far. We are able to offer patient and staff testing to diagnose and protect as many people as possible.

“Everything about COVID-19 is happening incredibly quickly, including testing, and this is a fantastic example of working with our partners for the benefit of the community.”

Director of the Bioscience Technology Facility, Dr Peter O'Toole said: “Our Genomics team, headed by Dr Peter Ashton, has been exceptional in their flexibility and time to ensure that we were able to support this need in the fastest possible manner.

It has been great to see how the investments in bioresearch technology, and just importantly our expert staff across both Biology and HYMS, can quickly be turned to other purposes to directly help the NHS and public.

Under normal circumstances the equipment is used in the University’s Genomics Laboratory for basic research on cancer, infectious diseases and neurological disorders, along with many other applications.