Though the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed so much about our everyday lives, it has brought out the best in the world’s universities, many of which are leading the charge against the disease.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at how our university partners around the world are responding to the coronavirus outbreak, starting with 3 top UK institutions: Bournemouth University (BU), the University of Liverpool and the University of York.
BU was quick to join in the UK’s efforts against coronavirus, offering both their scientific expertise and specialist equipment to local hospitals.
In February, the University’s Faculty of Science and Technology (SciTech) loaned 4 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines, which can be used to diagnose the illness in patients, to local National Health Service (NHS) trusts.
Now the University have gone a step further by donating its stores of personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers. Among the items donated were masks, safety glasses and hand sanitiser, which are vital in protecting doctors and nurses against the disease.
BU will continue to support the NHS throughout the crisis. The University is already in talks to loan a ventilator and an anaesthetic machine to nearby hospitals. It is also awaiting supplies so that it can begin producing protective face visors in its 3D printing lab.
Finally, SciTech have provided the NHS with a list of their Biomedical Scientists and Engineers. They are ready and waiting to assist medics with testing, and in any other areas where their expertise could help.
University of Liverpool
The University of Liverpool’s coronavirus response has been swift and decisive. They have suspended their usual research activities to allow staff across all disciplines to refocus their efforts on fighting the disease.
They have already made exceptional progress: a grant from the Medical Research Council has allowed the university to quickly establish the £1 million Outbreak Laboratory.
Now, researchers at the lab are busy analysing samples from coronavirus patients to determine why the virus affects some people more than others, and how long people remain infectious for. This work is vital to help contain the spread of the virus and develop potential treatments.
Elsewhere at the University, scientists are working to develop more effective tests for COVID-19, and Liverpool’s Psychological Research Network has launched Project ARES, which provides psychological support to people affected by the outbreak.
Finally, students at the University of Liverpool are playing a vital role in supporting the NHS: more than 230 final year medical students have volunteered help local hospitals treat patients with COVID-19.
The students have all taken their final exams and are set to officially qualify as junior doctors this summer. Hospitals across the UK are dealing with record numbers of patients due to the coronavirus outbreak so these brave students will be a great help to hospital staff!
The University of Liverpool has over 100 years of experience in infectious disease research, so their work is sure to be incredibly valuable.
University of York
The University of York is known for its innovative and world-leading research, so it should be no surprise that a York academic is leading the the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine trials.
Professor Seshadri Vasan, is an honorary chair in Health Sciences at the University of York. A well-known virologist, he is also currently head of the Dangerous Pathogens team at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
Professor Vasan and his team will be conducting animal trials on 8 promising new vaccines. They hope to discover not only if the drugs work, but also how to administer them, and the correct dosage. Once Professor Vasan and the team have completed their trials, the vaccines can be tested on humans.
York is also at the forefront of other areas of the global coronavirus response. In January 2020, a York academic co-authored a report on research during global health emergencies. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is now using the report to inform its guidelines on coronavirus research.
The guidelines are an important tool for establishing research best practice, ensuring countries share information and that ethical standards are upheld.
Alongside its global efforts, the University of York is also fighting the pandemic on a more local level. As well as donating much-needed food, disposable gloves and sterile needles to the NHS, the University has also started an emergency fund to support its students.
Thanks to generous donations from alumni and supporters of the University, the Emergency Student Support Fund will offer bursaries of up to £500 to students experiencing financial difficulties because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Find out more
These are just some examples of how our partner universities are leading the way in the worldwide coronavirus response. Check out the next instalments of how universities are fighting COVID-19 below.