Technicians versus Covid-19

When most of the University went into lockdown on March the 23rd, workers in our Department instead shifted their focus to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. As the name suggests, the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease houses a number of clinical academics who are on the front line of the disease response in Sheffield. So our staff were ideally placed to quickly roll out several initiatives to study this new disease and its effects on both intensive care Covid-19 patients and front line NHS workers. Those members of our IICD technical team allowed to remain on site were all mobilised to support these efforts.

One of the first studies that we got involved with was the Cog-UK Covid-19 study, which is a nation-wide study to map the various SARS-CoV-2 viral genomes that currently circulate in the UK. This provides a better understanding of the spread and transmission of the disease and has been instrumental in informing the national response to the covid-19 pandemic. IICD technicians as well as colleagues from SITraN and APS are involved in this project.

Another study that was launched early on in the pandemic is the ISARIC study, in which Covid-19 patient samples are processed and studied. This work is heavily supported by several of our IICD technical team members, who process patient blood samples and isolate white blood cells for downstream analysis in our high containment facility.

Subsequently, the HERO study was launched in which nearly 1,300 front line NHS workers (doctors, nurses, domestic services staff, admin staff, etc) are currently enrolled. This study aims to provide a better insight into the infection rates and disease prevalence in Sheffield NHS front line staff. A number of IICD technicians, with support from several colleagues from Oncology & Metabolism, are processing blood and saliva samples which are all tested for the presence of Covid-19 antibodies.

Our technical team also works on the Oxford vaccine Phase 2 clinical trial, which is one of the few vaccine candidates worldwide that is currently in an advanced stage of development. Sheffield is actually the biggest contributor to this Phase 2 trial in the UK as far as participant numbers are concerned. IICD technicians, again with the help of several colleagues in O&M, process and catalogue the participant blood samples which are shipped out to Oxford for testing.

To support these studies and trials, our Department developed its own in-house Covid-19 ELISA test. This involves the production and purification of large amounts of SARS-CoV-2 spike and nucleocapsid proteins, to which one of our technical team members (Janine Phipps) provides a vital contribution.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the following technical staff members for their amazing help and support on this hugely important work: Janine Phipps, Katie Cooke, Jon Kilby, Ben Durham, Linda Kay, Amy Lewis, Hailey Hornsby, Yvonne Stephenson, Steve Haynes, Barbora Ndreca (all IICD), Julie Porter, Maggie Glover, Ana Lopez, Mabrouka Maamra (O&M) and Matt Wyles (SITraN).

Mark Ariaans, Lead Resource Technician (IICD)