Bradford scientist volunteers at national Covid-19 testing centre

When the call went out for volunteers to help process tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests from people across the country, University of Bradford lecturer Dr Sriharsha Kantamneni did not hesitate to step forward.

Since the end of April, the 42-year-old married father-of-two has been completing a 130-mile round trip to Lighthouse Lab, a so-called ‘mega-lab’ at Alderley Park, Cheshire, which is part of what will be the biggest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history.

His work, though repetitive, is vital. Each day, he helps unpack some of the 20,000 tests collected from sites across the UK, including drive-through facilities such as the one in Bradford.

Originally from Hyderabad, Indian, Sriharsha – known as Harsha to friends and colleagues – has worked at the university since 2013, as lecturer in therapeutics in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

He said: “When the government asked for volunteers, I applied because this is the kind of work we do at the university day in, day out, so we are used to it. If I can help out in terms of affecting patient outcomes and make a change to someone else down the line, I am happy to do that.”

His main job is to transfer test samples (swabs) to plates where they can be analysed by qPCR (polymerase chain reaction) using automated machines, which scan DNA/RNA in order to identify infections, including coronavirus.

Harsha, whose wife works at Bradford Royal Infirmary, said there are plans to ramp up testing at the facility to 30,000-a-day (24/7) and take on permanent employees in preparation for any ‘second wave’ of the virus and in readiness for the winter flu season.

The lighthouse labs at Alderley park recently processed a million samples since opening in March.

Hadar Zaman, Head of School for Pharmacy and Medical Sciences in the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “It’s great to see Harsha volunteer his time on a weekend and we are all grateful for the important work he is doing. It’s only through the dedication and commitment of people like Harsha that we are able to fight Covid-19 and ensure individuals are safe. Harsha’s unique set of skills are integral if the NHS Test and Trace strategy is to be successful.”

The UK Lighthouse Labs Network recently thanked academics for their efforts in a tweet. Other testing sites exist in Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Glasgow.

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