The WISE Covid Unsung Heroes: Tech Award Finalists

Winner: Dr Amy Thomas is a research associate at the University of Bristol looking at zoonotic TB. 

Amy identified very early into the pandemic that the widely used invasive swab test was unsuitable for children. She therefore designed and validated a simple saliva spit test to roll out to schools across Bristol. The test is still contributing to national decision-making for outbreak control and has already been used in more than ten outbreaks in Bristol. Amy’s work was particularly remarkable since it was conducted during her PhD studies in a completely unrelated field. She used her initiative to source laboratory space, pre-pandemic saliva samples (from researchers in Portugal) and set up a pop-up clinic in the carpark of a local hospital to collect saliva samples. The project won £1.8m in funding.  

Runner up: Eloise Wells is a laboratory assistant for the Wellcome Sanger Institute laboratory.

In the early days of the pandemic Eloise recognised a rapid solution was needed to successfully find the 3% of positive swab samples arriving each day among the tens of thousands being delivered from across the UK. Eloise seized the opportunity to develop a tech solution to replace the paper lists method of sorting. She used her initiative and her coding skills to develop a plate-sorting and reading programme that was able to find positive samples in 44 seconds leading to 200 work hours saved each month.  

Runner up: Emma Larne and Hannah Williams work at the Liverpool Clinical Laboratories in Merseyside.   

These remarkable scientists stepped forward – with almost zero experience in virology or managing a service – to validate a new test and establish a laboratory from scratch in three months. They overcame significant technological, recruitment and logistical challenges to implement a seamless staff-testing service for 10,000 samples per week from the Cheshire & Merseyside Pathology Network. This meant the workforce could keep rolling to support the pandemic challenges.