Like the rest of the world, the University of Glasgow has had to make significant adaptations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the outbreak in March 2020, UofG has dedicated space at its campus at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital to become a Lighthouse Laboratory – part of the National Lighthouse Laboratory Network dedicated to mass-testing samples for COVID-19.
The Lighthouse has recently reached a significant milestone, processing over 9 million tests, a phenomenal achievement in supporting the country’s national COVID-19 testing effort, in Scotland and across the UK.
Setting up the lab
Establishing the Lighthouse Lab was a collective effort. As with many of the University’s major projects, the University relied on both public and private partners to make this possible, and worked in collaboration with drug discovery service company BioAscent, the University of Dundee, the Scottish Government and the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute. Funding was awarded by the UK government as part of the national response to the pandemic. Since May 2020 we have been working with BioClavis, a company based in the University’s Clinical Innovation Zone, to bring industry-standard processes and efficiencies, including the use of robotics, and enable the testing capacity of the Lighthouse to be increased significantly.
The UofG award-winning Clinical Innovation Zone was purpose-built to meet industrial standards and the past year has proven just how vital it is to have such a facility on hand. Within just five weeks of the project’s conception, the building which was previously host to a range of teaching and research facilities, was transformed in order to process tens of thousands of tests on a daily basis. These have increased exponentially since April 2020, when only 40 tests a day were being processed, to 85,000 tests today. As part of the national network, the lab processes samples from across the UK, and has contributed to national data on virus prevalence, Covid genetic variants, and also processed samples for recent vaccine trials.
Lighthouse Lab volunteers
At UofG, there are thousands of people employed in a range of roles, from research to professional services. With the outbreak of the pandemic and the establishment of the Lighthouse Lab, many of our dedicated staff members volunteered to apply their skills to the effort to combat COVID-19.
Hundreds of volunteers came forward to help with the facility, including highly experienced molecular scientists, technicians and bioinformaticians – all with the relevant skills and experience to carry out COVID-19 testing. In addition, professional services colleagues, across HR, estates, finance IT, and legal, have brought their skills to enable the success of the Lighthouse. The facility has been made possible through the work and commitment of partners, volunteers, and University staff.
More than 800 volunteers came forward when the Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow opened. The facility is now staffed on a 24/7 basis by a team of experienced scientists who ensure the lab runs effectively.
"As you move through your scientific career, you do spend less time in the laboratory, so it was good to get back into the lab and apply some of the skills I have gained over the years. Getting involved was my chance to contribute in some small way to current societal needs and hopefully help return us back to normality more quickly. " Dr Wai Kwong Lee, Research Manager
"Most people are doing their bit by staying at home to stop the spread of COVID-19. I wanted to contribute my skills and knowledge by becoming a part of the emergency testing centre. I have close friends and family who are also key workers and it gives me even more reason to work here and to help them and the community to overcome this crisis." Dr Natasha Malik, Research Associate
"Although born a Bostonian, I feel Glaswegian at heart! The ability to help Scotland, and the UK, fight back against COVID-19 has filled me with so much purpose. The reason I wanted to get involved is simple: I just wanted to help in any capacity that I could. I aspire to go to medical school, however, at this point in time when medical professionals were needed more than ever, I just wanted to do anything that I could to help." Hannah Bailic, Research Assistant
Aside from our established staff members taking on roles, the lab has also created opportunities for those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Over 650 jobs have now been created, many of which are likely to last until December 2021, providing purpose, experience, and employment.
The University has recently been awarded the UK’s largest Strength in Places Fund award (£38m) from the UK Government, to develop a Living Laboratory for Precision Medicine with consortium partners at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus. This five-year programme aims to benefit patients and the NHS and drive economic development and job creation in the local area. The establishment of the Lighthouse has been possible because of the University’s strong relationships with external partners.
Dr Carol Clugston, Chief Operating Officer of the College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences and a Director of the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab, explains;
"Through our close ‘triple helix’ partnerships with industry and the NHS, the University has been able to turn the Covid crisis into something positive . We are now running the largest diagnostic facility in Scotland. We have already created 650 high value jobs in Govan, including entry-level jobs, and are working with the FE sector and Skills Development Scotland to develop pre-employment training for local people. Many people are being up-skilled and retrained from sectors that are facing unemployment. We are providing valuable industry-facing experience for laboratory scientists, and are also creating a pipeline of highly trained staff that will be essential for the University’s longer-term vision of growing a sustainable life sciences industry cluster in Govan."