TestEd project receives £1.8 million UKRI backing to roll out across the University
A £1.8 million award from UK Research and Innovation will enable the TestEd team to provide fast and cost-effective twice weekly COVID-19 testing across the University.
The TestEd research project, which also has seed funding from the University, brings together a multidisciplinary Cross-University team. It uses saliva samples in an innovative PCR process to detect asymptomatic COVID-19 infections, with the ultimate aim of minimising infection outbreaks and transmission.
Current COVID-19 testing is primarily aimed at those with symptoms, so positive cases in asymptomatic people – those without symptoms - often go undetected. Up to half of people who test positive for COVID-19 show no symptoms at all and a similar proportion of COVID-19 transmissions result from asymptomatic individuals infecting others without realising they are carrying the virus.
The Scottish Government offers free rapid-turnaround lateral flow testing for asymptomatic COVID-19, which can produce results in around 30 minutes. Results are less accurate than the PCR technique commonly used in symptomatic testing. However PCR testing is generally not available for asymptomatic cases because of the cost and labour involved.
The TestEd team are using a PCR strategy called hypercube sample pooling to process dozens of tests at once, saving time and money while maintaining accuracy, compared to alternative techniques. This will allow for large-scale sample processing across the whole University with testing being made available to all staff and students over the coming year, along with surveys and interviews to understand people’s experience of testing and public health measures.
Testing is quick, convenient and easy – providing a small saliva sample into a tube is all that is required. Students and staff can give a sample twice weekly at one of the University’s designated locations and receive their result within 24 hours. As a research project, testing within the TestEd programme has not yet been approved by medical regulators. Those who receive a positive result are advised to self-isolate, follow government guidance and book an NHS diagnostic test as soon as possible.
The TestEd team is led by Professor Tim Aitman, Director of the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine within the Institute of Genetics and Cancer. Professor Aitman is joined by an expert group of Co-Investigators including Professor Linda Bauld of the Usher Institute, Professor Nick Gilbert of the MRC Human Genetics Unit, Dr Alice Street of the School of Social and Political Sciences, Professor Neil Turok of the School of Physics and Astronomy and other colleagues. The TestEd team, whose expertise spans a multitude of disciplines, recently received the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine Staff Recognition Award for Innovation.
TestEd is currently operating at eleven sites across several campuses and is expanding its coverage to make twice weekly testing easily available to the entire staff and student population of the University. Staff and students should look out for an email invitation to take part in TestEd when sample donation becomes available in their area over the coming months.
Asymptomatic lateral flow testing for COVID-19 is available to all campus-based students and staff in partnership with the Scottish Government. All staff and students on campus can get tested twice a week using this free service, which is available until the end of June 2021 at the Pleasance.
We have established the TestEd programme by bringing together a top team of highly skilled and dedicated individuals from across the University that includes laboratory and social scientists, physicists, health economists and experts in clinical trials, epidemiology, data science and IT, as well as a wide range of the University's support staff. The exceptional support we have received from the University's staff and students, at all levels, is heart-warming. We now aim to reach out to all sectors of the University's student and staff population, inviting them to take part. I am truly excited about the opportunities ahead and to playing our part in the fight against COVID-19.