My background is in research, specifically genetics. I was studying when the first human genome was published and followed the subsequent advances in DNA sequencing. I later took a post doc position at the Centre for Life here in Newcastle hoping it would get me closer to projects that could make a difference to health. The team I joined had just shown the protective effects of aspirin in hereditary bowel cancer after more than a decade of work.
It was from there that I joined, what was then, a small company developing technology and diagnostic tests, specifically for use in low resource settings. I worked there for eight years before taking up my role at the North East Innovation Lab, part of Newcastle Hospitals.
We are a team of eight people based in Newcastle’s Helix quarter working to support the development of the next generation of diagnostics; the cutting-edge technology needed to provide early detection and warning of virus and other health threats.
The lab was established to facilitate collaboration between universities, the NHS and industry, with the collective aim of supporting the development of new diagnostics tests.
The team has experience in molecular biology, life sciences, research and methodology, and we offer access to services and clinical materials essential to effectively evaluate test performance.
We maintain a large biobank of characterised Covid-19 biological samples – carefully collected samples are essential for ‘testing the tests’ – as well as samples of blood, serum and saliva. And we can also collect specific samples on request to fit with the needs of clients.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the demand there is for our services.
One of the challenges we have is navigating the regulatory and ethical frameworks around the work that we do. Thankfully, we are part of Newcastle Hospitals which has a strong focus on research, and a good understanding of commercial engagement.
It is really rewarding to see that we offer a meaningful service, the benefits of which can be seen almost as soon as you finish the work; whether it’s returning partners, or products coming to the market. Also, there aren’t many other places around offering the kinds of services we do, which is exciting.
We offer an open door to collaborators and since launching in January 2021, the lab team has been in contact with over 70 organisations across the globe from the USA to Australia – and has 35 projects in place with 17 companies.
We speak to almost everyone who engages with us, find out about them, and see if we can help with their needs. We are a dedicated team so we are able to respond quickly to new projects. Previously we’ve gone from initial call through to contracting and delivering the work in a week.
I think we can all benefit from improvements in diagnostics. Whether that be more economical, faster or improved accuracy, more complex tests or simply widening access to testing. Or, it could be better surveillance, better screening – the list goes on. Diagnostics underpins a lot of decision making, not only by healthcare professionals but more and more so by ourselves as we try to lead longer healthier lives.
The team here at the lab are fantastic. We manage multiple projects at the same time, some internal, others for external partners. There is a lot of balancing to do and a lot of teamwork. The clinical team will be out recruiting patients to studies or back at the office keeping records and planning future studies. A lot of time is spent in the lab, maintaining our biobank and evaluating and validating diagnostics devices.
Since opening in January 2021, many of our projects have involved supporting the development of Covid-19 diagnostics.
Our work has now expanded beyond this, and the team is proud to be playing a key role in the advancement of some of the most innovative diagnostics under development.
This includes assessing technologies for the rapid detection of a range of infections, such as sepsis, SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), influenza, other respiratory viruses and disease, incorporating tests based on molecular, antigen, antibody and point-of-care, in addition to routine research. We can collect and provide well characterised clinical samples so these new devices can be evaluated.
The technologies we support are at various stages of development, from early concepts through to devices that are actively being brought to market. We can offer tailored assessment of tests weather they are at early or later stages of development. It’s important that new diagnostics are evaluated with a process and samples which match their intended use. We work with clients to ensure that evaluations are robust and meaningful.
Our work is with UK and international clients including university spin-outs and large multi-national corporations and our partners are all at various stages of developing new tests but all needing key information about test performance.
We have an open door policy and would love to hear from any companies out there who would like to understand more about what we do; or require support to develop the evaluation and validation of their diagnostics.
Find out more here.