Manchester Metropolitan University, a Partner Affiliate of the NTDC, will be testing around 850 key workers in the North West.
A national programme assessing the accuracy and ease-of-use of Coronavirus (COVID-19) antibody home-testing kits has begun with the support of Manchester Metropolitan University.
Up to 5,000 key workers will be trialling the self-test kits in controlled testing centres across the country, with the North West centre being set up on Manchester Metropolitan’s campus.
The University will test approximately 850 participants between now and the middle of July, when the testing period comes to a close.
Why antibody testing?
Scientists say antibody tests will help provide a clearer picture of how far the virus has spread and what proportion of the population has been infected.
They may also be able to identify individuals who could have some protection against COVID-19.
Though home testing kits are already widely used in the healthcare sector, the ease-of-use of antibody tests has yet to be investigated.
With that in mind, researchers hope to evaluate and find an effective and convenient at-home kit that can be rolled out nationally, providing fast and accurate results.
Manchester Metropolitan University is the North West regional partner of the programme – REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-2) – that is led by Imperial College London.
Bill Ollier, Professor of Life Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “I am very pleased that Manchester Metropolitan University is helping to deliver this important project examining COVID-19 antibody positivity in key workers in the North West.
“Manchester Metropolitan University has an excellent track record of delivering applied health research that makes significant impact on improving the lives of those who live and work in Greater Manchester.
“Given the extreme variability seen in the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, we still do not accurately know what percentage of the population have already been infected and recovered – hopefully with some level of protection.
“This knowledge can only be achieved through antibody testing.
“We hope that by finding accurate and easy-to-use self-test kits, we will be able address the urgent need for this information.
“It is critical for us to have this knowledge in order to protect our key workers who will be vital in the event of any further waves of infection.”
Key workers from across the North West, primarily local police officers and staff, have already begun visiting the University campus to be tested.
While onsite, volunteers each undertake five tests in total using different prototype models, some of which are self-administered without the assistance of a healthcare professional.
They are then asked to evaluate each test for ease of use.
Participants are also tested by a clinician during their trial as researchers want to find out how effective self-administered tests are in comparison to more established ways of testing for antibodies.
Once testing is complete, all samples will be sent to Imperial College London for analysis and the results will be compared with gold-standard laboratory testing on participants’ blood samples to assess the accuracy of the tests.
The data will be used to help guide the Government’s decision around which test should be used.
Manchester Metropolitan’s Head of Technical Services, Dr Kate Dixon and her team have been running the testing centre located in the University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering’s John Dalton building, ensuring all participants are safe when visiting campus and social distancing measures are adhered to.
Kate said: “University technicians and clinical staff have been onsite daily, processing participant samples and organising shipment of these samples to Imperial College London for analysis.
“I’m extremely proud of the staff who are delivering this important project during a very challenging time.
“It is great to see their work making a real contribution to the national COVID-19 response.
“Staff have been running the test site on campus this week and will continue to do so throughout the study. Ensuring not only that testing goes smoothly, but social distancing and safety measures are maintained.”
Reassurance for key workers
Many of the volunteers involved in the study are working members of the police who have been on the frontline throughout the pandemic and during the national lockdown.
Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, NPCC Lead for Wellbeing and Engagement for Greater Manchester Police said: “We are really pleased to have been asked to take part in this important study.
“Police officers and our staff have continued to provide services to the public throughout the pandemic, often in difficult circumstances.
“Having this opportunity to ascertain whether or not they have had the virus will help in some way to reassure our force and their families.”
Fight against COVID-19
Professor Andy Gibson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Science and Engineering, said: “It is fantastic that the University is supporting this project, which is going to make an incredible contribution towards the fight against COVID-19.
“It’s a testament to capability of our expertise within the Faculty to be asked to participate and in such a prominent study by Imperial College London and I’m delighted we have been able to take on a meaningful role.”
Paul Downey, Senior Scientific Development Manager, Imperial College London, said: “It has been wonderful having Manchester Metropolitan on board helping us to deliver this important study as our North West partner.
“They join a national network of seven universities – together we hope to make a real difference towards the fight against COVID-19.”
If antibody self-testing is found to be accurate and usable by the public, it will be rolled out in the final stage to 100,000 people later this year to provide an indication of the prevalence of COVID-19 in England.