An Interview with ... Covid-19 Testing Technicians: Part 2

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

Being part of the Advanced Sequencing facility, Laura Cubitt has been involved in the Crick’s COVID-19 testing process since the beginning. The Facility has been transformed into the RNA extraction lab, where they’re able to process thousands of NHS samples every day. Thanks to the right expertise and robots already in the lab, the team have been able to set up this process remarkably quickly.

What is your usual role at the Crick?

I’m an Senior Laboratory Research Scientist in the Advanced Sequencing Facility (ASF), where we prepare a wide variety of DNA and RNA samples into libraries ready to be sequenced, as well as running the sequencers themselves. It’s particularly interesting getting to be involved with setting up bespoke projects and developing new methods with researchers from across the Crick. We work with 75+ different research groups on projects across various subjects, including infection and immunity, cell biology, developmental biology and cancer.

It’s been stressful and exhausting but being able to help out during this time has been fantastic.

What is your doing as part of the COVID-19 testing?

The ASF lab has been transformed into the new COVID-19 RNA extraction lab. A number of us from the ASF have been involved from the very beginning to set up this new work, since we know the robots and the lab pretty well! We have a few different robots in the lab and the expertise to program them within the team, which have been so important in setting up the COVID-19 RNA extraction lab. They allow us to quickly plate out samples from tubes and perform extractions on thousands of samples every day.

 

How does your part of the process work?

We do the sample plating and RNA extraction. This involves placing individually barcoded sample tubes onto a robot which reads each tube barcode and transfers the sample to a specific recorded well in a barcoded plate. This plate is then placed on another robotic system where all the samples are processed through RNA extraction simultaneously. The final extracted RNA plate is then handed over to another team to get the results!

Now I’m looking forward to scaling up the sample numbers that we’re processing to our full capacity, so that we can test as many healthcare workers as possible.

How is your team working?

During the first couple of weeks it was all hands on deck trying to get everything organised and ready to start the first tests, so it was long days for everyone involved! We are currently working in shifts, with a morning and an evening shift, keeping the number of people in the lab at the same time to a minimum. Once the number of samples we are processing scales up even more, we will be moving to 24-hour shifts so that we can keep the extractions going throughout the night and get a quick turnaround time for results.

 

What is your personal take on it?

It’s been great to be involved and very satisfying to see the whole process coming together; from the start when we were planning how we were even going to process 1000s of extractions each day, to now being a (mostly...) well-oiled machine! It’s been stressful and exhausting but being able to help out during this time has been fantastic. Now I’m looking forward to scaling up the sample numbers that we’re processing to our full capacity, so that we can test as many healthcare workers as possible.

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