GW4 Universities supporting the fight against COVID-19

April 30, 2020

In these uncertain times staff and students across the GW4 Alliance are playing a key role in the fight against COVID-19 coronavirus.

Our universities are undertaking world-leading research to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We are committed to working with a range of partners both at a regional and national level to provide support and advice. We are engaging with organisations from Government to local communities, and from health and care services to industry.

Dr Sarah Perkins, Director of the GW4 Alliance, said: “Collaboration is at the heart of GW4. During this time, it is more important than ever before that we co-ordinate our response and work together not only as an Alliance but with our partners and other groups to share ideas, tools and techniques. It has been fantastic to see GW4 universities stepping up to support the fight against COVID-19. Our region is home to world-leading expertise and our universities are already playing a vital role in helping the world understand more about the disease and how we can reduce its impact on our society.”

From world-class research and expertise to medical equipment for frontline staff and practical advice and resources for those in isolation. Here are some of many ways our GW4 universities are harnessing our strengths to tackle this unprecedented challenge. 

WORLD-LEADING GENOMIC SEQUENCING

Scientists and clinicians at Cardiff University and the University of Exeter are part of the £20 million COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium.

The Consortium brings together experts from across the NHS, public health agencies, and other academic institutions to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves by using whole genome sequencing. The aim is to look for scientific breakthroughs that help the UK respond to this and future pandemics, and save lives.

Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said: “The UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for genomics research and development, and I am confident that our best minds, working as part of this consortium, will make vital breakthroughs to help us tackle this disease.”

RESEARCH PROJECTS AND INITIATIVES

At the beginning of the current coronavirus outbreak in December 2019, the University of Bristol was one of the only research facilities in the UK looking at how the virus interacts with human cells. The researchers’ findings have highlighted important implications for scientists around the world about the genetic changes that occur when COVID-19 is cultured.

The University of Bristol is collaborating on one of only four global candidate vaccine trials, which marks a crucial step in fighting the coronavirus pandemic and could pave the way for a vaccine to be delivered later this year. The study will involve healthy volunteers between 18 and 55 years of age, with up to 150 participants to be recruited in Bristol.

UK Research and Innovation has announced priority funding for ‘Germ Defence’ – the only digital app proven to reduce the transmission of infections in the home. Clinicians and researchers from the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Southampton, and Public Health England will develop the resource into a freely available worldwide app in 20 languages. The app will include research from University of Bath psychologist and GW4 Crucible alumni, Dr Ben Ainsworth.

Experts at Cardiff University are asking people from across the UK to take part in one of the first research projects aimed at monitoring public attitudes and responses to one of the biggest health crises facing the country in recent history.

Medical researchers at Cardiff University’s PRIME Centre developed a website to help parents look for tell-tale signs of COVID-19 in children. It has already helped a mother of a young baby to spot the symptoms of coronavirus and get him the care required.

A new test is being developed by researchers at the University of Exeter to detect whether people who have had COVID-19 are still infectious. This breakthrough test could help healthcare workers and others know when they are safe to return to work.

Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer at the University of Exeter, who led a GW4 Research Community, is exploring the experience of family carers during the COVID-19 pandemic in a series of weekly interviews over the next three months. The study aims to understand how family carers are coping and explore whether changes in policy and social care provision are impacting their wellbeing and caring responsibilities.

SUPPORTING THE NHS AND HEALTH AND CARE SERVICES

GW4 Universities have sent thousands of items of protective equipment normally used in laboratories to the frontline of the NHS and the local authorities. Staff from the University of Bath’s Faculty of Engineering & Design have now made over 30,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) including face shields and eye protectors for hospitals, pharmacies, care homes and GPs. At the University of Bristol, academics, researchers and technicians from the School of Chemistry produced 1000 litres of World Health Organisation (WHO) hand sanitiser in ten days, for key workers throughout the city.

Researchers at Cardiff University have created a free mental health scheme, which will offer an unprecedented level of support and advice to all healthcare professionals. Digital training experts at the University of Exeter have created new PPE training for NHS staff. The free online training, follows current Public Health England guidelines, and is based on Virtual Reality tuition which teaches nuclear workers how to use protective clothing.

Hundreds of medical students have made an important decision to qualify early to help reinforce the NHS. This includes over 200 final year medial students from the University of Bristol and more than 50 final year Medicine and Medical Imaging students from the University of Exeter. Cardiff University is fast-tracking final year medical and healthcare students and over 300 third and fourth year medical students have signed up for a ‘volunteering bank’ to support the NHS. Staff at Exeter’s Medical School have also volunteered to support the NHS hospitals, GP practices and local communities.

SUPPORTING LOCAL COMMUNITIES

As well as strengthening national and regional health efforts, GW4 Universities are also supporting local communities across our region through a range of measures. Examples of this include volunteering, donating food to key workers, providing accommodation for NHS staff and sharing expert advice on topics such as home-schooling, healthy eating and staying active even when isolating at home.

STAY UPDATED

Follow the latest updates on twitter and sign up to the monthly GW4 newsletter to receive highlights of how our GW4 universities are supporting the fight against COVID-19 and information on our other research projects and initiatives.

View the dedicated COVID-19 pages:

Bath: https://www.bath.ac.uk/topics/covid-19-news/
Bristol:
https://www.bristol.ac.uk/research/impact/coronavirus/
Cardiff:
https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/about/our-profile/who-we-are/civic-mission/responding-to-coronavirus-covid-19
Exeter: 
http://www.exeter.ac.uk/about/covid-19/