Lab Story – Manisha Patel

Lighthouse Labs

Medicines Discovery Catapult

What do you do when you’re not working at the Lighthouse Labs?

I’m a Specialist Teaching Technician in Biomedical Sciences and Physiology at the University of Salford.

How many years of scientific experience do you have?

I have worked at the university for just under 9 years, but prior to this I worked in the NHS for 3 years firstly as a technician in the Blood and Transplant Centre, as well as a Genetic Technologist in Cytogenetics at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital. I did both my BSc (Hons) degree and MPhil at Liverpool John Moores University.

What is your role in the Lighthouse Lab?

I am currently working in Workstation 1 of the Alderley Park Lighthouse Labs, where I directly handle and process patient samples taken from test centres and self-testing kits all over the UK for COVID-19 testing. I initially sort out and visually inspect the samples before scanning their barcode and loading them into plates, ready for PCR testing and analysis.

What is the key experience you bring to that role?

I have years of experience working in cell culture techniques and working aseptically in biological hoods in general. I also work with biological hazardous material very often in my line of work.

How is it different to your regular role?

In my line of work, I work with all sorts of people such as students, research staff, academics and other technicians amongst other external groups. I am responsible for predominantly looking after and maintaining my own Biomedical teaching lab and overseeing all lab activities that happen within it, as well as other activities within my specialism occurring in our other teaching facilities, such as project/research work and large teaching classes of up to 140 students at a time!

Working at the Lighthouse Labs is very similar to the work I used to carry out whilst I was in the NHS – working closely with human biohazardous tissues, checking over and processing the samples following guided SOP protocols, and helping towards creating test results for the patient in a timely but safe manner.

Why did you want to get involved?

I feel extremely grateful for all of our key workers who are out there working extra hard to get our country through the pandemic, but I felt like I could also be “useful” during this time using my lab-based skills – I had already been in lockdown for a few weeks not being able to do very much at home in relation to my technical role at the university. I thoroughly enjoy the prospect of being able to make a difference to people’s lives if it meant helping them get out of self-isolation unnecessarily and getting them back into work (the workaholic scientist side of me also misses being in the lab during these times!).

What does it mean to you to be involved?

It means the world to me being part of this giant countrywide initiative – it feels amazing being able to work in such amazing facilities and helping towards an important and personal common goal amongst all the other workers. Also being able to work alongside many of my colleagues from the University of Salford who have also volunteered their time makes me feel very proud that our workplace has been able to let us volunteer for however long possible, before we’re needed back full-time in our “normal” jobs.

What is it like working alongside a host of new colleagues from both industry and academia?

The one thing that has struck me whilst working at the Lighthouse Labs is how positive everybody there has been whilst working, even if things have been extremely busy at times! Nobody has complained once about the jobs we’ve been assigned, the early starts or the late finishes. I’ve also really enjoyed chatting to people during my breaks and finding out who they are and how they also ended up volunteering at Alderley Park. It has certainly been a very humbling experience so far, and I look forward to talking to more people and learning more about them.

What is the best thing about working in the Lighthouse Lab?

The free chocolate and hot drinks, obviously! Joking aside, the facilities have been brilliant to work in each day, and everyone working there has maintained a high level of professionalism at all times. I like being part of a special team with an almost “war-time effort” feel to it – where people from all different backgrounds and experiences have come together with a level of camaraderie despite most being complete strangers, all with a common goal of helping our country out during its time of need.

“…being able to work alongside many of my colleagues from the University of Salford who have also volunteered their time makes me feel very proud…”