During the last weekend of March 2020, several of my department colleagues decided that we could use our combined expertise to rapidly develop serology assays to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies raised in the blood following viral infection. The university was moving into a "lockdown" scenario, with non-essential staff and all students working from home. We sent an email to our top PhD students and asked them to consider an alternative to home lockdown - instead, we asked them to put a pause on the PhD for an unknown period of time, and use their skills to work together and develop a completely new series of COVID19 assays.
Come Monday 30th March, we met in a lecture theatre and brainstormed our options, leading to the goal of developing column agglutination tests for COVID19, based on the robust, scalable and rapidly deployable technology already used for blood typing world-wide. Julia Walker, Ed Henderson and Vidhi Kesarwani from NEL, teamed up with Prof Gil Garnier and his students/staff - Diana Alves, Rodrigo Curvello, Heather McLiesh, Prof Mark Banaszak Holl and Hajar Samadian, and A/Prof Tim Scott and Sam Leguizamon, set to work in a new environment, having to consider social distancing, cross-training across instruments and methods in case someone became sick, and navigating the university environment without the usual hustle and bustle.
Pretty amazingly, fast forward to late June, and today I'm submitting the revisions on the manuscript for this new assay, and we are now looking forward to the next set of challenges - using what we have learned to develop a new generation of molecular and immunoassays, and also developing industry collaborations to fund the commercial development and wide deployment of this new assay, which can be used immediately in any hospital.