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Focusing on COVID-19 at the UCLH Advanced Pathogen Diagnostics Unit

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Working to actively curb the COVID-19 pandemic, i-sense researchers in partnership with UCLH Advanced Pathogen Diagnostics Unit (APDU) are developing new diagnostic technologies to improve clinical care and outcomes.

Led by Head of Virology, Dr Eleni Nastouli, the APDU is a late translational research unit that has developed innovative molecular diagnostics and Next Generation Sequencing protocols, in collaboration with the Sanger Institute. It is embedded within a large, busy hub and bespoke UKAS accredited pathology suite, one of the most advanced, automated diagnostic laboratories within Europe.

How the ADPU adapted work to address COVID-19?

“From the start of the recent pandemic, APDU has initiated a whole genome sequencing programme, and re-purposed a H2020 grant for point-of-care diagnostics to COVID-19,” says Dr Nastouli.

The Unit works collaboratively to practice evidence-based infection control, improve outbreak preparedness, and optimise patient management with current, future and experimental treatments.

“APDU is currently supporting clinical research and development required during the pandemic through our partnership between UCLH and the Francis Crick Institute.

“This is to develop important clinically important diagnostics, including serology test, and increase diagnostic capacity.”

Who are ADPU collaborating with? 

To date, the Unit have sequenced thousands of patient samples. They have built strong international collaborations with large consortia working on HIV in Europe, Africa, and Asia (EPIICAL), Arboviruses in South and Central America, the Caribbean and Europe (ZIKAction), and novel POC assay development in Europe (FREE@POC). They are also working with laboratories across the world, including in France (INSERM), Belgium (LHUB-ULB), Italy (Padova University), Greece (FORTH), Brazil (FioCruz), and the United States (Ragon Insitute, Harvard University).                 

The team, which collectively has decades of experience in developing molecular diagnostics for clinical use, also includes Dr Jude Heaney, Lead Postdoctoral Scientist (in collaboration with i-sense), Dr Moira Spyer, Virology Research Programme Manager,  Dr Dan Frampton, Senior Bioinformatican (in collaboration with i-sense), Dr Paul Grant, Clinical Scientist, and Matt Byott, Bioinformatican. With the formation of the APDU they have developed and continue to develop molecular assays including whole genome sequencing protocols, metagenomics and bioinformatics pipelines for pathogen diagnosis.

They have also successfully participated in the development and proof of principle evaluation of novel diagnostics for HIV Ag/Ab detection using smartphone technologies and are, in partnership with i-sense members at UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, developing data visualisation tools merging clinical and pathogen genomic data using machine learning methods. 

The APDU is funded by NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, the UCLH Pathology Division, and the UCLH Clinical Research Fellow scheme, and has also received funding from the Wellcome Trust, and EU H2020. i-sense researchers have also been funded to work on this project.