Meet the winners who helped respond to the COVID-19 crisis
Jack Levy, Fathima Nisha Begum Samad and David Cordova are MPhil students in Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management. Jack is based at Corpus Christi and Fathima and David are at Wolfson College.
These students received a Vice- Chancellor’s Social Impact Award this year, for their joint efforts in tackling the current crisis at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, working under pressure to respond to this global emergency.
Watch a video explaining their project and read their testimony below.
As the Covid-19 crisis started to unfold in late March, many Cambridge students headed back home; departments began to shut their doors and the true impact of this historical event started to become a harsh reality. A small team of MPhil ISMM students assembled to apply their knowledge of industrial practices to the front line of the pandemic.
Dr Florian Urmetzer, our Course Director, worked closely with Addenbrooke’s hospital to determine where our skills and knowledge would be the most valuable and impactful. Speeding-up vital Covid-19 testing of healthcare workers was found to be critical to ensuring staff who had been self-isolating were safe to return to work and that Addenbrooke’s hospital did not suffer from staff shortages to fight the pandemic.
At the start of the outbreak, the governmental labs were critically overstretched. To support these efforts, Prof. Stephen Baker set up a Cambridge University Covid-19 lab to add testing capacity for NHS staff.
One of our first tasks was to design and propose a layout of the new staff testing facility, where symptomatic or asymptomatic healthcare workers could be tested. A large challenge to this was to design a layout that minimised cross infection and maximised usability and utilisation of resources. The solution we created was an intuitive and flexible layout that had capacity for up to 300 tests per day.
The next task was situated in Stephen Baker’s University Covid-19 test lab. When observing the lab procedures, it was found that the pipetting of lysis buffer into the test tubes was time and labour intensive, and there was limited capacity in the centrifuge rotor for RNA extraction. Working in conjunction with Cancer Research UK, we designed and manufactured a number of adapter plates for an automated pipetting machine and the centrifuge rotor, both helping to reduce researchers’ time and increase capacity.
Another issue to tackle was the inconsistent flow of samples from swabbing stations to the labs which was causing inefficient use of lab resources. After interviewing key personnel, carrying out observations and applying industrial engineering tools, we created a production planning tool that used a series of algorithms to automatically create the most optimal test plan over a 4-week period. We are pleased that our interventions have been successfully implemented and used at Addenbrooke’s hospital.
This experience has given us a great insight into managing the workflow of a temporary testing facility using academic laboratories. We are writing a paper supervised by Prof. Stephen Baker to design a testing framework so other NHS trusts can replicate these successful procedures we have developed here to speed up vital Covid-19 testing.
Lastly, our work at Addenbrooke’s hospital has laid the foundations for us to start our MPhil research projects in collaboration with the NHS and IfM. We will be looking into what went wrong with Covid-19, what lessons we have learned and what we should do in the future. It has been a very valuable real-life experience working in the front line and under pressure to deliver and to make a real difference during this pandemic. It will be an experience we will not forget. We would like to thank everyone who has supported the project.