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UEL student hailed for ‘outstanding contribution’ to development of Covid-19 testing

Postgraduate Open evening

George was directly involved in the diagnosis of hundreds of patients

A Biomedical Science student at the University of East London was part of a team that established the Covid-19 diagnostic assay used for patients at the Barts Health NHS Trust.

George Doyle, a second-year BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science student, is currently on placement for a year in a busy clinical virology department at the Royal London Hospital, which was one of the earliest adopters of in-house Covid-19 testing and is now performing more daily tests than any other hospital in the UK.

George’s role involves testing patient samples for a variety of different viral infections, from the common cold or flu to more serious infections, such as HIV. As the UK witnessed the rapid emergence of the ‘coronavirus’, a new method of testing for the presence of a pathogen needed to be developed and validated for the hospital to be able to diagnose the condition in patients.

As part of his training portfolio, George was asked to work with the hospital’s consultant clinical scientist in Virology to develop this test. He was tasked with applying research on the virus made available by Public Health England and developing a functional and efficient protocol using the instruments available to the hospital.

“Even as a student, I can take great pride in that fact that I was directly involved in the diagnosis of hundreds of patients at the early stages of the pandemic.

The project itself was very rewarding. I gained first-hand experience of how a completely novel virus can be detected, and how we can use emerging literature from all around the world to improvise and improve our techniques.”

To fulfil the training requirements for state registration, students are normally required to perform a small research project. George said he “couldn’t have chosen a better year to do my placement!”

With a keen interest in programming, George admitted he had gained “a bit of a reputation in my department for always pestering my managers on how to change and improve our IT, so when the opportunity to develop a program based on COVID-19 testing arose, I instantly accepted.”

There is a lot of trial and error involved in the work, which can be frustrating, he said, however, “seeing the work you have put in be clinically implemented in a very real way during a public health crisis is a really satisfying experience.”

Professor Amanda Broderick, vice-chancellor and president, University of East London, said George’s experience has “further highlighted the important and central role University of East London students and staff have played in supporting the NHS, the government and the public at this unprecedented time.”

Dr Claudio Scotti, principal lecturer in the department of bioscience, University of East London, said, “George was recognised for his outstanding contribution to Covid-19 testing at the Royal London Hospital.

“According to our placement link there, ‘George is a bit of a celebrity. He was instrumental in getting our SARS-CoV-2 PCR up and running. He did all the wet work, postponing his Friday off so that we could get testing.’”

Dr Scotti added, “I’m super proud of him.”

The lecturers and staff at the University of East London who facilitated his placement —aimed at developing practical skills and gaining the vital experience he will need in preparation for future employment — have been incredibly supportive, George said. 

The team at the Royal London Hospital have always shown him “great respect by listening to my ideas, involving me in projects and generally making me feel like a valued part of a team.”

“For any prospective students who have the opportunity to go out on placement with the university, I simply can’t recommend it enough.”