Midlands Innovation universities support the fight against COVID-19

30 March 2020


As the situation with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic rapidly escalates & changes, universities in the Midlands are uniting to help with the fight against the virus outbreak.

Midlands Innovation (a partnership of the Universities of Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham & Warwick) are acting agilely to support the Government, NHS, frontline services and communities at this time of crisis. Actions of the partnership to date (Monday 30th March) include:

Undertaking world-leading genomic sequencing to help understand COVID-19
Two Midlands Innovation (MI) partners, the Universities of Birmingham & Nottingham, are part of a consortium created by Government to work with the NHS, Public Health Agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute and other academic institutions to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves in order to guide NHS treatments.

Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said: “The UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for genomics research and development, and I am confident that our best minds, working as part of this consortium, will make vital breakthroughs to help us tackle this disease.” Read more here: www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-launches-whole-genome-sequence-alliance-to-map-spread-of-coronavirus

Undertaking research, including to help find quicker ways to test & treat patients with COVID-19, and supporting existing testing efforts
The University of Leicester is trialling a new way of determining whether a person is infectious or not – even before symptoms are present. Read more here: https://le.ac.uk/news/2020/february/28-coronavirus-masks

The Universities of Nottingham & Leicester have provided PCR testing equipment to the NHS to help them to be able to test more patients who have suspected coronavirus, while Cranfield University is ready to provide staff, if needed, to support the COVID-19 test centre in Milton Keynes.

Warwick Medical School owns and operates a set of 'Clinical Sciences Research Laboratories', which are located in a building adjacent to the University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust’s Coventry hospital. It has now made all those laboratory facilities available to UHCW, with immediate effect, to help support the hospital’s COVID-19 clinical laboratory work.

Professor Matt Keeling and his team at the University of Warwick’s Mathematics Institute is continuing to advise the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), using his expertise in epidemiology modelling, and Ivo Vlaev, Professor of Behavioural Science in Warwick Business School (WBS) is working with the COVID-19 Behavioural Change Unit for NHS England.

The Nottingham COVID Research Group is investigating how the virus infects lung cells to cause severe pneumonia, and are also investigating the long term consequences of the COVID-19 virus on the development of fibrosis of the lung.

Doctors & student nurses to join the NHS frontline
Medical Schools within MI partnership, which includes the Universities of Birmingham, Keele, Leicester & Warwick, have enabled final year medics and student nurses to join NHS frontline services. In addition, the Universities of Nottingham, Leicester & Warwick are freeing their Medical School staff from academic duties to focus upon clinical care within the NHS frontline.

Helping with the production of parts for ventilators for the NHS to treat COVID-19 patients
Experts at Loughborough University have offered to 3D print parts to support those manufacturing ventilators.

Donating PPE equipment & other essential medical suppliers to the NHS & frontline services
MI partners have donated PPE equipment supplies to local NHS facilities, to support those on the frontline with accessing the necessary equipment they need, and Cranfield University’s Centre for Competitive Creative Design has created a new, easy-to-make facemask that is being tested for NHS use.

Prior to the Government’s announcement for those who can work at home to do so, research Chemists at the University of Warwick and academic technicians at the Universities of Aston & Birmingham have been using their expertise to create and distribute hand sanitiser to frontline NHS and social care workers.

As well as supporting national and regional health efforts at this time, MI partners are also supporting local communities across the region through a range of measures; examples of this include: volunteering; providing food and other essential provisions; and sharing expert social science tips through social media channels for those working from home, and for parents home-schooling their children. 

Professor Alec Cameron, Chair of Midlands Innovation and Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, said: “Our partnership’s motto is ‘Together we are Stronger”; it represents who we are, it’s what we stand for, and it drives our collaborative efforts. Those few words are never truer, not only for our partnership, but also for our country and the world at the moment.

It is clear to see from the great efforts that our university partners have been undertaking in the last few weeks that, as well as supporting students and staff to rapidly transition them to be able to study and work online, we have at the same time been supporting the Government, regional bodies and NHS and other frontline services, as well as those in the communities in which we are based.

On behalf of all the MI university Vice-Chancellors, I want to express our heartfelt gratitude for the profound efforts of all of our staff and students. Not only have our staff and student communities stepped up to offer support to frontline services, to undertake crucial work in seeking a vaccine, and to provide testing to trace those who have had the virus, they are also helping the vulnerable and needy in our local communities.

We believe that we are stronger together, and they have demonstrated this in the last few weeks. We know they will continue to do all that they can to support not only themselves, their families and their colleagues, but also support frontline services and our communities too. Thank you.

Dr Helen Turner, Director of Midlands Innovation said: “Midlands Innovation partners will do all that they can to continue to provide as much support as possible in the fight against Covid-19, and as the situation rapidly changes and emerges, we will be communicating our collective ongoing efforts, and sharing the ways that our partners are helping through our twitter account, @innovationmids.

Visit this dedicated page, highlighting the Midlands Innovation partnership's support with COVID-19 efforts at: https://midlandsinnovation.org.uk/covid19

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