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Coronavirus Kent: University of Kent staff and students volunteer to help at NHS hospitals during the outbreak

With stricter measures now enforced upon the country, staff and students at the University of Kent are doing their bit to try and help with the coronavirus outbreak.

As the bioscience laboratories at the university are now closed, they're lending specialist equipment to hospitals in Kent to help increase the number of coronavirus tests that can be taken, while more than 30 members of staff, academics and PHD students from the biosciences school have also volunteered to help.

KMTV's Kristina Curtis reports on how students and staff at the University of Kent are doing to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak

Prof. Dan Mulvihill, Head of the School of Biosciences at the university said: "Staff, PHD students, researchers and academics have volunteered to give up their time to help in the labs in NHS hospitals.

"We have a variety of people with molecular biology skills, what we're trained to do here, and they’re able to use these skills working alongside NHS workers so we can expand the number of tests that can be done in any one day.

"We’ve all been trained in this particular skill set, there’s a need for it now and this is the time for us to step up. We’re in the privileged position of being able to help and therefore we are."

Dr. Jill Shepherd, a lecturer in stem cell biology at the university, added: "The first thing I think most people in bio-sciences wanted to do is come forward and see what we can do. It’s a great opportunity to be able to use the skills that our workforce have, the molecular biology skills that we use to produce great research science every day, to come into the labs to do something to help with something that’s happening at the moment.

Prof Dan Mulvihill and Dr. Jill Shepherd with the equipment going to Kent's hospitals. Picture: University of Kent
Prof Dan Mulvihill and Dr. Jill Shepherd with the equipment going to Kent's hospitals. Picture: University of Kent

"It’s an interesting time for us, we’re feeling very privileged to be a part of this and to be able to help with the effort.

"Its one of the positive things that can come out of something like this, people can work together more closely and relationships can be developed further."

The machines that have been lent to the hospitals are Quantitative PCR machines which allow tests to be undertaken to detect if the patients have coronavirus or not. Although hospitals in the county already have access to the machines, having additional ones is hoped to significantly increase the amount of tests that can be carried out each day.

Prof Mulvihill said: "These machines, which we use in our research labs on a daily basis, they’re extremely sensitive so they allow you to detect within samples a trace, or not, of nucleic acid from the virus itself. So we can identify whether or not they’ve been infected with a high degree of certainty.

"Our machines will be able to increase the hospitals capacity to fulfil demand in the coming months."
All five of the machines are set to be delivered to the hospitals in Kent this week, with the volunteers ready to put their hard-earned skills and research to practice.

The University of Kent is also set to begin working with Imperial College London on a research project to develop antibodies that target the novel coronavirus with the aim of developing a new therapy for COVID-19.

The research project will look to develop a potential antibody therapy, with the aim of progressing the therapy to be ready to for clinical trials. These trials will determine if the developed therapies can treat coronavirus infections including the COVID-19.

For this project, Kent will be working alongside Hong Kong University and the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, as well as Imperial College.

Positive results from this research could include vital breakthroughs in actions against the virus, putting the NHS in a stronger position and providing hope for the pandemic’s eventual close.

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