For the past six weeks PhD student Leila Fahmy has been part of the team that has helped establish diagnostic protocols at the national COVID-19 Lighthouse Lab in Milton Keynes.
Leila (Biology 2019) worked 12-hour shifts to run polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on samples from key workers, including NHS staff, who were displaying coronavirus symptoms.
The 27-strong team comprised other volunteers from the University of Cambridge, Birmingham and Bath.
Leila said: “I answered an advert looking for students as I did a lot of PCR tests during my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science at Sheffield Hallam.
“It was tiring and very rewarding work – I got to meet so many people from different research backgrounds and also from government organisations all working towards a similar goal.
“It definitely made me rethink how to do some work in the lab differently, and how to work more efficiently.”
Leila was one of the original people trained on robots to automate the process.
She said: “There were five robots set up and we ran concordance tests to make sure everything was being processed correctly.
“In April we had to hit the 100,000 target of tests – using a robot all day meant I could process 2,000 samples and I was proud to think that was one of the highest amounts achieved. I was able to process about 300 samples per hour, as opposed to manually pipetting around 100 samples per hour.”
Leila said that the number of volunteers eventually reached 150 people, in four teams. Everyone had the necessary PPE when handling live samples, including disposable lab coats, goggles and masks, plus two pairs of gloves.
“I didn’t catch coronavirus and I felt looked after,” she said.