News Release 

New saliva tests rolled-out to hospital staff to cut COVID transmission rates

Earlham Institute

Science Business Announcement

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IMAGE: COVID-19 LAMP Testing at Earlham Institute's dedicated laboratory. view more 

Credit: Earlham Institute (EI)

Frontline staff at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals (NNUH) are among the first in the country to benefit from the rollout of more accurate saliva tests in a bid to curb Covid transmission rates.

Combined with the vaccination programme, these rapid tests should help to significantly reduce the ability of the virus to spread in healthcare settings.

In partnership with the Norfolk and Norwich Pathology Lab, the Earlham Institute (EI) and the Eastern Pathology Alliance, the Government-commissioned programme introduces a new, more reliable COVID testing programme for frontline workers.

NHS staff have been using lateral flow tests, self-swabbing twice a week to help identify asymptomatic staff. In contrast, the new LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests need only be taken once a week, requiring a simple saliva sample rather than a nose swab, and positive results do not require an additional confirmatory PCR test.

The samples are being analysed at the Earlham Institute (EI), a leading genomics research centre based on Norwich Research Park. A dedicated lab, housing EI and NNUH scientists, are ramping up to process up to 35,000 tests per week - with the results being available on the same day.

The first of these new coronavirus tests have already been offered to NNUH staff and a trust-wide rollout will follow, with the programme continuing across Norfolk and Waveney to gradually replace lateral flow tests.

LAMP tests measure genomic RNA, which is no longer detectable once an individual is no longer infectious. "This new test is much simpler to take and very effective in detecting active virus - crucially, it doesn't pick up traces of an old infection, said Dr Karim Gharbi, Head of Genomics Pipelines and COVID testing lead at EI. "This gives increased confidence that those staff who do test positive are infectious and should self-isolate immediately to protect others."

Achieved by the fast-acting partnership between the NNUH and the Earlham Institute, LAMP's technology is a more reliable alternative to lateral flow tests. This new test is less uncomfortable and avoids the delay of the original follow-up PCR. NHS staff should receive their results quickly and help break the chain of transmission.

Dr Richard Goodwin, Chief of Division, Clinical Support Services and Clinical Lead for Covid Testing and Vaccination: "It's vitally important that we continue to protect each other, our patients and our families by carrying out these tests, even now vaccinations have been rolled out. This is all part of our fight against this virus."

The Pathology Incident Director for NHSE COVID Testing in Norfolk, Dr Ngozi Elumogo, Consultant Microbiologist & Lab Medicine Clinical Director heading up the Programme across the Norfolk and Waveney Health Partnership, said: "This is a very exciting and important innovation in the battle against COVID-19 and I am very proud to be leading a very dedicated team of NHS Microbiology staff who have worked extremely hard to deliver this new initiative in record time, in spite of the enormous increase in lab workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Professor Neil Hall, Director of the Earlham Institute, said: "Testing remains a fundamental part of the national response to this pandemic. We've seen positive early signs from the vaccination programme, but we know transmission rates remain very high, with most people having no symptoms. Getting the number of cases under control will limit the outbreak of new strains and give vaccines the best chance of success.

"We're able to use our unique blend of genomics and microbiology expertise and infrastructure to make a real difference for frontline NHS staff. This is one of the many inspiring collaborations and innovations born out of this pandemic and will help the East of England lead the way in this next phase of COVID testing."

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Notes to Editor

Dr Karim Gharbi and Prof Neil Hall are available for interview, please contact:

Hayley London
Media & Communications Officer, Earlham Institute (EI)
+44 (0)1603 450107 / 07760 438218
Hayley.London@earlham.ac.uk

About Earlham Institute

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research Institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation - £5.43m in 2017/18 - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities. http://www.earlham.ac.uk / @EarlhamInst

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