An Interview with ... Covid-19 Testing Technicians: Part 1

Testing for Covid-19 is key to slowing down the virus and keeping people safe. Read on to hear from the first of three technicians who were kind enough to tell us more about their role in the COVID-19 testing process.

Thomas Martinez, who works in Cell Services, has a double role in the Crick’s COVID-19 efforts. He’s still supplying cell lines to research groups, but now for their COVID-19 projects. Plus, he’s now part of the first stage of the testing process, receiving and processing the samples as they arrive at the Crick.

 

What is your usual role at the Crick?

I’m a Laboratory Research Scientist in Cell Services, where we analyse and vet hundreds of cells in a sterile environment before they go to the Crick’s research labs. For the last three years I have been specialising in the production of monoclonal antibodies – copies of antibodies that target specific antigens, including those expressed by and used to identify cancer cells.

I bumped into Leigh who asked me if I would like to volunteer to help with the Crick’s COVID-19 project, and I said hell yes!

What are you doing as part of the Crick’s testing programme?

Currently, the Cell Services team are providing cells to groups who need them for their COVID-19 projects. Personally, I’ve also joined the Sample Reception team as part of the Crick becoming a testing centre to support NHS staff.

The Sample Reception team are receiving and processing the COVID-19 test samples that arrive at the Crick. Before they go through to our labs to be inactivated it’s important to make sure the samples are of good quality, logged properly into Crick database and assigned the correct barcodes to be processed. That’s why we are here.

 

How did you become involved?

I’m one of the Crick’s Emergency Response team members, so I often work closely with Leigh Jones, head of Fire and Emergency Response. A few weeks ago, when I came into work in Cell Services, I bumped into Leigh who asked me if I would like to volunteer to help with the Crick’s COVID-19 project, and I said hell yes!

I’m finding it absolutely amazing being part of this project, both as a scientist and personally.

What is your working pattern like at the moment?

In Cell Services, we are trying to work remotely as much as possible. Everyone keeps in contact daily via email but members of our team come on site periodically to take care of the growing cells.

In the Sample Reception team, we’ve created a rota system so that there’s cover every day. Usually we work in teams of five and split shifts into mornings and afternoons, which might soon extend to evenings if the Crick starts to receive an increased number of samples. Once in the lab, everyone is extremely diligent and keeps a safe distance from one another.

 

How are you finding it all?

I’m finding it absolutely amazing being part of this project, both as a scientist and personally. These are hard times we’re going through, and my whole family is in France while I’m here in London. Sometimes I feel powerless and disconnected from them, but it’s really given me the opportunity to focus on the work that needs to be done here at the Crick. Every day I’m motivated to give my best to make a small but important impact on getting back to better days. What we’ve achieved here in the labs is fascinating. Binding the skills of so many different staff and scientists to focus on the same goal is heart-warming and I’m glad to be at the forefront of this project.

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