Two researchers from the FRAME Alternatives Laboratory (FAL) recently volunteered at the Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab in Cheshire – one of three national megalabs testing samples from COVID-19 drive-through test sites across the country.
The Lighthouse Labs have been assembled to ramp up COVID-19 testing in the UK and created through a partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care and Medicines Discovery Catapult with UK Biocentre and the University of Glasgow.
Two researchers from the FAL responded to a call for volunteers to help with testing at the Lighthouse Labs. In the second blog instalment, FAL PhD student, Syedia Rahman, talks about how and why she decided to get involved in the initiative, and shares her experiences of working in the lab.
As the UK went into lockdown, I, like everyone else, began working from home. I had to get used to the idea that I would not be entering the lab for a few months, which was pretty difficult considering my work relies mainly on lab work. During this time, my family and friends were worried about the pandemic – how long was it going to last for? Will we ever go back to a normal life? When will we next see each other? These are all thoughts I also shared with them, which is why I wanted volunteer for the COVID-19 testing, as I wanted to help in any way I could at this unpredictable time. Luckily, one of my friends, Razan, also wanted to volunteer and we applied to volunteer locally, as well as nationally. We received a reply at the same time and within days we moved to Manchester.
In my first week at the national testing labs, I received training to work directly with the virus. Once I passed the training, I immediately started working with samples. I initially did four shifts a week, mainly weekends, but as sample numbers began to fluctuate throughout the weeks, my shifts became less consistent. When I wasn’t working in the labs, I focused on my PhD writing as I still needed to prioritise my studies.
Initially, I pipetted each patient sample into a plate in order to deactivate the virus so it could be taken for testing. I pipetted in batches of 90 and handled many patient samples from all over the UK. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were some concerns whilst handling the virus – the thought that every sample tube I processed could have the virus was scary. However, through the training I received, the PPE provided and the support of my family, friends, lab members as well as my PhD supervisor, Andy, I was encouraged and reassured of the safety of the work that I was doing.
The next workstation I received training on was for the processing of sample plates after the virus had been inactivated. This was an extremely fast-paced environment. I was constantly on my feet and communicating with all other workstations to ensure that the results could be processed as quickly as possible. Although the work could be stressful at times, I was surrounded by supportive people and the fact that every shift was always different kept me motivated and engaged.
The general lab environment was very encouraging and friendly. There was this community feeling – we were all working together to help as much as we could during the current crisis. The facilities were of a very high-standard and it was clear how much effort the government, as well as the lab staff, were putting in to perform and constantly increase the capacity for testing.
There were times after my shifts when I felt tired and incredibly drained, but all of that was worth the satisfaction of doing a good day’s work, being in an exceptional lab environment and interacting with people from a diverse array of backgrounds that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I learnt a lot during my volunteering, and the experience was very worthwhile.
I’m glad that I was able to provide help with the COVID-19 national testing and contribute to the group effort in overcoming this pandemic. I have made many friends from all over the country and I’m so thankful for everyone at the labs that made my experience so positive – in these uncertain times, it was wonderful to see everyone come together.