Cheshire’s COVID Christmas Champions

Medicines Discovery Catapult

Shining a spotlight on the region’s scientists who will be working throughout the festive period

The vast majority of us will be looking forward to a well-deserved break over Christmas and New Year; kicking back, relaxing and saying a fond farewell to what has undoubtedly been a tumultuous 2020.

With an extended Christmas break this year, most workplaces will be shutting across the country for over a week, giving a chance to unwind and recharge the batteries.

For many others however, it’ll be a case of business as usual – with doctors, care workers, midwives and nurses pulling lengthy shifts on the 25th to keep us safe throughout the holidays.

But this year more than ever, the appreciation is also being extended to include the scientists who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, and who are set to continue in their resolve to keep us safe over the festive period.

For the scientists at Cheshire’s Lighthouse Lab at Alderley Park, the 25th will be business as usual, working to process the thousands of coronavirus samples the site receives daily. A key component of the Government’s COVID-19 testing programme in the battle against Coronavirus, the site’s scientists can process more than 50,000 samples daily.

Alongside 70 colleagues, a local scientist who will be working at the lab on Christmas Day is Dr Cai Astley.

As a Bioscience Lead at the site, Cai joined the lab from his PhD in Nanomedicine & Vascular Pathology from Manchester Metropolitan University earlier in the year to support the team in testing Covid samples.

Cai said:

“Covid doesn’t take a break over Christmas, which is why we shouldn’t be letting our guard down over the festive period in the fight against Covid.

“Although I’ll be missing out on the turkey and the trimmings this year, it’ll be a small sacrifice to pay if it means we can continue to process the Covid samples to meet demand over the Christmas period.

“Doctors and nurses will be on the front line on the 25th battling the effects of Covid, and we’ll be doing exactly the same, helping to play our bit in the Government’s testing programme.”

The Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab was set up from scratch in March, when 1,000 individuals from across the national life sciences sector joined a call to arms to volunteer their time in battling the pandemic.

Cai continued:

“There’s over 500 staff members at the site sampling up to 50,000 tests a day and we’ve just recently processed our 5 millionth sample. We’ve got to where we are through the hard work and dogged determination of the team, which would have been an impossible achievement were it not for their ethos and commitment to help eradicate Covid.”

He concluded:

“It’ll be tough being without family this year, but all the more worth it if it will enable me to see more family members next year. I might treat myself to a turkey sandwich at lunchtime, but I’ll certainly be raising a glass to the team at Alderley Park at the end of the shift!”

Dr Mark Wigglesworth, Site Director at the Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab, paid tribute to the scientists who will be working over the festive period.

Mark said:

“With hundreds of volunteers answering the initial call to action here at Alderley Park, we were astounded by the sheer number of volunteers who stepped forward at the start of the year to dedicate their time and energy towards a common goal; how the application of technology and science can contribute towards the eradication of the terrible pandemic we’ve all had to endure this year.

“Following the launch, we’ve had a great deal of these volunteers join the team as employed staff, who have again demonstrated their determination and eagerness to continue that fight, regardless of the festivities in the coming weeks. I’d like to show my appreciation to the entire team for their hard work this year and wish them a very Merry Christmas.”

The Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab is one of several government super-labs across the UK, which together form the Lighthouse Lab network. At the end of October, the network had the combined capacity to process half a million tests samples each day.

Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) runs the Lighthouse Lab at Alderley Park on a not-for-profit basis following a request from the Department for Health to rapidly expand Covid-19 testing.

Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab is part of the largest diagnostics network in UK history, set up in response to an unprecedented global pandemic. Its testing capacity was successfully set up, and scaled up, at speed.

The lab can now process 50,000 samples daily and has, to date, processed over 5 million samples from regional test centres, mobile test units, care homes and home testing kits ​from across the country.