Blog: Testing to provide a more promising future

Ngo Yin Chiu / Zoe

Zoe is one of the new lab scientists operating at the new BSPS Lighthouse Laboratory at Brants Bridge. We spoke to Zoe during her induction to find out more about her role and what it’s been like to train for the new facility.

Why did you want to join the BSPS Lighthouse Lab at Brants Bridge?

I live locally in Slough and as soon as I heard about the new Lighthouse Laboratory opening locally I knew I had to get involved. The opportunity to support the NHS to fight a global pandemic is something that really appealed. I have a background in biochemistry, so knowing I could help people in my local community – particularly people in vulnerable situations who are at risk – meant I didn’t hesitate to apply.

How does the lab compare other labs and testing facilities you’ve worked in?

The scale, efficiency and volume are on a different level. Most people’s lab experience is based on a much lower throughput where we use manual testing processes, such as pipetting the well plates with the relevant primers and mixes by hand. But the number of swabs we need to process here means the manual techniques simply aren’t feasible.

Instead we use some of the most advanced diagnostic equipment and technology out there. The kind you read about in text books but never imagined you’d get to use so regularly. At the BSPS Lighthouse Laboratory, we’re using the new Thermo Fisher Scientific Amplitude Solution, which can process samples more accurately and on a completely different scale. In a smaller lab, manually I might be able to process 100-odd samples in one day – from beginning to end. But using this technology alone, you can process around six runs of hundreds of samples in the same amount of time. The accuracy is better and it’s so much more efficient.

How was your training? What did it involve?

We’ve all got lab experience already and lots of the team have already been involved in COVID-19 testing, but this is brand new technology that we needed to road test. In laboratories and in science more broadly, so much of the job is problem-solving and minimising risk – so I was keen to see what kind of issues or surprises it might throw up and how we would resolve them.

Not far away from here is The Pirbright Institute, where some of the world’s most important diagnostic studies take place. They helped us familiarise ourselves with the Amplitude technology and provided induction on how to manage the samples and biosafety. It was a privilege to work with colleagues at Pirbright – lots of them volunteered at the Lighthouse Laboratories last year, so we were able to hit the ground running when we started here at Brants Bridge.

How have the first samples at the lab been? What’s it like?

It’s been fantastic – especially given where we are as lockdown begins to ease. These samples belong to real people – people who will want to start returning to workplaces and seeing their loved ones again. Knowing that our testing is helping to provide a more promising future for people is really rewarding.

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