An NHS lab in Newcastle Helix is championing women who are playing a central role in accelerating the development of the next generation of diagnostic technologies to protect against virus and disease.
The innovation lab, based at The Biosphere in Newcastle Helix and hosted by The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, facilitates collaboration between universities, healthcare organisations and industry, with the aim of bringing new approaches and technology to mainstream use.
Principal scientist Dr Caroline Wilson helps lead and support the team of NHS scientists in evaluating the latest tests and helping to accelerate diagnostic tests and surveillance for Covid and beyond.
Dr Wilson, an immunologist with an academic background in inflammation and cancer research, had an early career which was far from scientific as she ran a small seaside bed and breakfast for many years.
“I began my scientific journey at 30 as a mature student with two young children. I fell in love with science from my first day at university and thrived there, gaining a first class degree in Medical Microbiology and Immunology.”
Dr Wilson went on to do complete a PhD, and prior to joining the innovation lab, she was a research fellow at Newcastle University working on a broad range of molecular and immunological projects and a principal investigator studying liver disease and tumour immunology.
In 2020, the world was thrown into the Covid-19 pandemic and Dr Wilson volunteered to spend time at a new Lighthouse Lab in Milton Keynes, to help set up and carry out the first one million UK population tests for Covid-19.
She is currently working as principal scientist for the innovation lab, part of the Integrated Covid Hub North East.
“I’m working with partners and industry to accelerate the introduction of new ways of Covid testing, to fight the current virus. But we also have a clear eye on the future and our work, which includes building a biobank of samples to support current and emerging research, and will help to develop
cutting edge and accessible testing to protect against future infectious threats.”
Amanda Winter, a diagnostic evaluation healthcare scientist, supports all aspects of the design and delivery of research and evaluation including study design, protocol development, participant identification and recruitment, and provides specific methodological expertise to the team.
While senior scientist Dr Donna Nile, and healthcare science associate practitioners Josiane Dushime and Samirah Ali, are responsible for maintaining the biobank which currently holds 15,000 Covid samples for clients with access to the valuable samples they need to help develop their diagnostic tests. Gail Dack and Tasleem Akhtar are research nurses on the team collecting samples and managing studies.
Melanie Shield, commercial business manager provides a dedicated point of contact for clients and commercial partners from around the world looking to engage the services of the lab. She has been instrumental in instigating discussions with 70 organisations across the globe from the USA to Australia – with 58 from the UK – which has led to 29 projects with 17 different companies.
The lab team works with small, medium and large companies who are at different stages of developing new diagnostic approaches.
The evaluation of new diagnostics taking place at the innovation lab is helping to not only tackle the current pandemic but also ensure testing stays one-step ahead of future virus threats.
The lab’s work now also spans environmental surveillance, oncology and wider infectious diseases.
Meet the team here https://commercial.newcastle-hospitals.nhs.uk/our-services/innovation-lab/team/