Recent news from Cambridge is that 2,500 healthcare workers at Addenbrooke’s Hospital have now had their blood tested for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. The testing forms part of an ongoing study to assess the immune response to COVID-19. Overall 7.5% tested positive, but at present it is unclear exactly what the results mean.
To date the small research laboratory in Cambridge have screened 6,000 healthcare workers for COVID-19. The good news is that few positive cases have shown up in the last couple of weeks. Data collected from the screening has provided important insights into how infection prevention and control measures, including staff testing, can help prevent hospitals turning into hubs of transmission and how other places could resume work safely. Cambridge University is now arranging for all symptomatic individuals working for the university to be screened as part of its measures to ensure health and safety for people going back to work. Life within the laboratory is slowly getting back to normal and projects started before the pandemic are beginning to be resumed. This includes a project to develop vaccines and monoclonal antibody therapy to combat bacterial infections. Such tools are vital for tackling bacterial diseases resistant to antibiotics which has been accelerating in recent years and cannot be afford to be forgotten in the ongoing crisis with COVID-19.
The latest briefing from Cambridge scientists highlights some of the challenges they face trying to get back to some sort of normal routine while continuing to help in the diagnosis of COVID-19. It also flags up the point that not all diagnostic tests for COVID-19 are equal and the importance of getting samples from the nose and the throat where the virus tends to be most concentrated. Getting a good sample is also important so people need to be given good instructions on how to take the sample. Efforts are now well underway to establish a large longitudinal serology study to understand the immune response to COVID-19 and the true incidence of infection. The aim is to recruit 10,000 Cambridge University Hospital staff who will be bled at six monthly intervals. Samples collected will provide invaluable data for understanding the duration of immune responses and the extent to which previous exposure to the virus is protective against new waves of infection. Such work is also important in terms of assessing the likely impact of vaccination.
The recent briefing from Cambridge offers a glimmer of hope. No positive results have appeared in the tests rolled out by the research laboratory among healthcare workers in Cambridge over the past week. This suggests that the disease has slowed down within the hospital and community in Cambridge. Staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital are now beginning to think about how to return things to normal but at the same time put in measures to cope with a potential second wave of infection. The team in Cambridge intend to get serological testing fully underway this week to understand the immune response to COVID-19. This is important because lots of antibody kits are now being sent out to people, but little is known about the antibodies produced and how they work.
This latest briefing highlights that over 3,000 healthcare workers have now been screened for COVID-19 since the research laboratory in Cambridge set up its diagnostic testing facilities at the beginning of April. While not yet published, the data collected is important because it represents one of the largest screening datasets of asymptomatic healthcare workers in the world. One of the highlights in the data collected in the last few days is that many of the workers who test positive are probably at the tail end of their infection. This suggests that there are now less infections in the community as a result of the lock down. The briefing also discusses a study launched in Vietnam in 2012 that can provide important lessons in terms of what strategy can be used in the future to follow the transmission of animal viruses infections into humans which is vital in terms of limiting the toll of Covid-19 and other potential pandemics.
The latest briefing from the scientific team in Cambridge indicates they have now done over over 1000 COVID tests on healthcare workers connected with Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Data from these tests have now been pulled together and analysed to get a sense of how many healthcare workers are infected and how many are truly asymptomatic. The data reveals there have been two clusters of infection within the hospital. This is the first dataset of its kind in the UK and could provide an important baseline for other hospitals in how they go forward in controlling for COVID-19 infection. Additional testing by the team indicates that COVID patients cared for within ICU have a risk of picking up other bacterial infections which are resistant to drugs. Managing these infections will be an important factor in the recovery of such patients.
Fast turnaround of COVID-19 diagnostic testing results is critical to stopping the spread of the disease. It also has implications for the allocation of resources and staff within the healthcare setting. The latest briefing from Cambridge scientists highlights some of the practical difficulties they are confronting in terms of making sure diagnostic results get out as soon as possible. Having enough hands on deck to process the tests and getting samples transferred from the clinic to the laboratory early on in the day are crucial to the process. Good collaboration with scientists in other centres nearby is allowing the team to expand how many samples are tested. What this illustrates is the importance of local networks in getting things moving. Now that a blueprint has been developed for processing tests for healthcare workers, the team is beginning to focus their energies on the development of a rapid turnaround diagnostic test for patients admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. The test can detect 80 different pathogen targets in each sample.
One of the key limitations to expanding diagnostic tests to tackle COVID-19 is the limited number of laboratories with suitable facilities to carry out the tests. In just 14 days a team of scientists, clinical staff and diagnostic staff based in Cambridge have developed a protocol for smaller academic and non-academic laboratories to roll-out testing for healthcare workers. They have just released a blueprint of their system for other laboratories to use.
In these briefings we intend to provide a regular documentation of the science and the work of the scientists coming to terms with the challenge of COVID-19. Today we connect with researchers based in Jeffrey Cheah Biomedical Centre, Cambridge University, to find out what is happening in one the many laboratories in the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. These are the notes from a conversation held with Stephen Baker, professor of molecular microbiology, on Thursday 9th April 2020. It highlights the complexities involved in building a computer system to record results from COVID-19 tests that can be shared with other organisations like Public Health England and maintaining the privacy of individuals tested.
In these briefings we intend to provide a regular documentation of the science and the work of the scientists coming to terms with the challenge of COVID-19. From time to time we will connect with researchers to find out what is happening on the ground. Today we connect with researchers based in Jeffrey Cheah Biomedical Centre, Cambridge University, to find out what is happening in one the many laboratories in the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. These are the notes from a conversation held with Stephen Baker, professor of molecular microbiology, on Friday 3rd April 2020.