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Norwich Research Park continues the fight against COVID-19

PUBLISHED: 16:30 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:03 22 May 2020

The drive-through coronavirus testing facility at the Norwich Research Park was set up very quickly to support the increase in testing capacity  Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The drive-through coronavirus testing facility at the Norwich Research Park was set up very quickly to support the increase in testing capacity Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Norwich Research Park’s scientists and researchers have been at the centre of many initiatives to help the region combat the devasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clearly shown the importance of science and research and why the nation needs to continue to support its growth.

Dr Karim Gharbi, a geneticist at the Earlham Institute, has coordinated volunteer efforts to increase testing capacityDr Karim Gharbi, a geneticist at the Earlham Institute, has coordinated volunteer efforts to increase testing capacity

Scientists volunteer their skills to increase testing capacity

Testing for the coronavirus has been one of the biggest challenges facing the government. That’s why scientists at Norwich Research Park took it upon themselves to volunteer their help to support NHS frontline workers.

Volunteers from all research organisations on the Park have been working together with staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) to help with the isolation and detection of viral RNA, part of the vital testing process.

Scientists from the Earlham Institute, John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory, Quadram Institute, the University of East Anglia, Eastern Pathology Alliance and the Cotman Centre formed a task force to create the additional resource needed to significantly increase testing capacity that enabled thousands rather than hundreds of tests to be completed each day.

David Parfrey said it has been 'truly inspiring to see the response to the pandemic from people right across Norwich Research Park'David Parfrey said it has been 'truly inspiring to see the response to the pandemic from people right across Norwich Research Park'

Dr Karim Gharbi, a geneticist at the Earlham Institute, coordinated the volunteer efforts. “Testing capacity has been a key focus from the beginning of this pandemic,” he said.

“Our volunteers are helping to keep frontline NHS staff and key workers across Norfolk safe, whether that’s by self-isolating or knowing they can return to their critical work.

“It’s often a crisis that brings new people together and we’re seeing that in the response from the scientific community to coronavirus, both in Norwich and around the world. We all have the same goal of saving lives and flattening the curve of this pandemic, which we can only do by working together.”

Drive-through test centre

Further evidence of that collaboration was seen on the Park with the setting up of a drive-through test centre.

Members of the Norwich Research Park management team worked closely with a team from the NNUH to very quickly cordon off the car park, erect gazebos and set up testing equipment, employ a traffic management system and launch an appointment booking process.

NHS staff operate the drive through and collect swab samples safely from people who have COVID-19 symptoms or suspect they may have the virus, before being sent to the labs for testing.

Collaboration provides answers

Under normal conditions, scientists across the Park work together on many different research projects, so when COVID-19 demanded a rapid and cohesive response it was natural that the Park’s collaborative approach provided the perfect platform for scientists to come together to solve some of the challenges the virus presented.

Being home to a number of world-leading institutes and expert scientists, Norwich Research Park was able to step up to the plate.

David Parfrey, executive chair at Norwich Research Park, said: “It’s been truly inspiring to see the response to the pandemic from people right across Norwich Research Park, whether they work for one of our Partners or the 150 businesses that call it their home.

“Our Park operates as a collaborative model which has enabled us to mobilise quickly, efficiently and effectively in deploying our resources to help the hospital in the fight against COVID-19.

“We have treated our entire campus as one space, our buildings as opportunities in which to do things, and our people, with their knowledge, skills and networks, have been deployed willingly and positively.

“It’s meant that we’ve been able to produce hand sanitiser, manufacture PPE, create ventilator parts from 3D printing and developed testing kits.

“We’ve also delivered COVID-19 genomic work, provided additional staff from volunteer projects to increase testing capacity, and used the space across the Park to support NHS activities, as well as set up the drive-through testing facility.”


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