University of Bedfordshire lecturer believes universities are key in the fight against Covid-19

University research and facilities can help in the fight against coronavirus

A lecturer from the University of Bedfordshire explains how university research and facilities can help in the race to improve testing for Covid-19.

Dr Robin Maytum, Principal Lecturer in Biomedical Science at the University of Bedfordshire, believes it is essential that the country makes the best use of the resources available at the universities across the UK.

He said: "Even the smaller UK universities, such as the University of Bedfordshire, can make a significant contribution through both the knowledge and experience of their staff and their physical resources.

Dr Robin Maytum

"I have recently been working with a local Bedfordshire company, Life Science Group, on an innovation that could significantly increase the safety of health workers handling patient samples for Covid-19 testing.

"At the moment, current Covid-19 testing of patient samples uses guidelines published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which have been followed by health organisations in major developed countries such as the NHS in the UK and its equivalent in the US, the Centre for Disease Control.

"Under these protocols viruses are transported 'live' to laboratories in a cell preservation media that must be kept cool (2 - 8 C) and the sample has a limited life due to degradation, leading to possible false negative results.

"These ‘live’ samples contain potentially infective pathogens and need very careful handling.

"This increases the risk to workers along the whole analysis chain, starting at the point of care where the samples are taken, through shipping, to when they are finally inactivated in the initial processing at analytical laboratories.

"This increases the risk to workers throughout this process for the many thousands of samples processed each day.

"Scientists had previously discovered from the working with the dangerous Ebola virus that swabs taken from patients could be immediately ‘killed’ by placing them in a special denaturing solution.

"This has also been proven to work with Influenza viruses and is highly likely to work in the same way with the new coronavirus. With these similar viruses, this method of sampling has also been shown to reduce the need for cold shipping and improve sample consistency due to the biological inactivation step.

"The University of Bedfordshire has provided scientific and technical advice to a local Bedfordshire company, Life Science Group, that is now producing trial batches of denaturing media for testing by the NHS.

"Successful validation of this new process using denaturing media for samples could not only reduce the risk throughout the analysis chain, but also allow easier and faster sample handing.

"This could then increase the number of much-needed tests that can be processed in order to meet government testing targets of 100,000 a day."