Teams within Liverpool Clinical Laboratories, the largest Pathology service in the North West of England have been working extremely hard over the past few weeks to introduce antibody testing in support of the global pandemic COVID-19 effort.
COVID-19 Antibody testing is a blood test to understand whether the body has produced an immune reaction (antibodies) to SARS-CoV2. It takes time for the body to produce this response.
The tests available at Liverpool Clinical Laboratories look for the two antibodies (IgM and IgG) that are produced by the body after infection. The time taken to produce antibodies varies between people, from five to seven days, but in some cases, can take more than six weeks post infection.
Our Clinical Scientist in Immunology, Katy Keymer has been leading in the verification and validation process and explains more about the test:
“The antibody test indicates whether a person has been infected with SARS CoV-2 at some point, but does not provide any information on immune status. We are still learning about the best way to use antibody tests and research studies are on-going locally and nationally to understand the immune response after COVID-19 and whether this protects people against future infection.”
The team at LCL have been working extremely hard to bring the antibody test into routine use, with many aspects of the organisation being involved in some way. This has involved an extensive process of testing to ensure that the test does what it is intended for i.e. identifying patients who have had the disease as confirmed by PCR.
Alongside the technical aspects of getting the test up and running, there has been an enormous amount of logistical work and problem solving with IT solutions for ensuing that the tests can be ordered and results can be sent back to different sites that are not part of the usual testing process.
Katy continues: “The work to bring a test into use usually takes several months, but this has been completed in less than three weeks.
“We have also been working with other labs across the region to enable them to commence testing for their local region. Without strong networking and collaboration, the region would have failed to meet national targets for antibody testing.”
The national targets set by the UK Government were to process 120,000 samples per day and following implementation by the LCL team, a total number of 2,485 tests were performed on the first day. Since then we have processed over 12,000 antibody tests.
General Manager Craig Evans said: “We should be rightly proud of this achievement. The efforts to stand up this test and make it live so quickly and arrange for the bloods to be taken, transported, booked in, processed and reported back, in many cases via text straight to the staff member within hours of taking the samples is astonishing.”
Chief Operating Officer of LCL Alyson Constantine shared her pride at the incredible achievement by staff and colleagues in the region, in such a short space of time:
“I’m so very proud of you and our colleagues, quite incredible given the task and the pressures placed upon us all in such a short period of time.”
Through collaborative working across the Cheshire and Merseyside Pathology Network, from Clinical Immunology, Chemistry, Specimen Reception, and IT teams at LCL and Alder Hey, the task now will be to keep pace with the increasing targets and upward trajectory set nationally as we all look to navigate our way through this pandemic.