A machine that could test up to 2,000 patient samples a day for COVID-19 antibodies will be installed at the University of East Anglia (UEA), thanks to a grant of £100,000 from the Freemasons.

The machine, a DYNEX Agility Unit, analyses blood samples for antibodies to see if a person has had the virus and may have gained some immunity to it. It has been validated by Professor Bill Fraser, Head of Norwich Medical School at UEA and a Consultant Metabolic Physician and Chemical Pathologist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The test can be used to identify those NHS and other key workers who have generated antibodies and may have some immunity, as well as screen the general population to help formulate a plan on how they may return to their daily lives. It could also be used to better identify and protect those who remain most vulnerable including patients and staff in care homes. Long term studies will explore how long the antibody production lasts and whether this does confer any protection from further infection.

The Unit will allow researchers in UEA’s Bob Champion Research and Education Building to process many more blood samples and integrates with the team’s Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), allowing the machine to scan the samples and automatically detect which test is required. The result is then reported directly back to the LIMS where health professionals can check the result. This ultimately makes the testing process faster and more accurate.

The Unit will be delivered to the lab in the Norwich Medical School in July, and once calibrated, will allow the team to begin to scale-up testing. The lab will be able to accept samples from NHS hospitals across East Anglia. Vital care home and NHS staff will be tested first, and results may be used to help plan their return to their jobs supporting patients and the local community sooner.

The £100,000 donation was raised jointly by Freemasons from Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire, and through the Masonic Charitable Foundation, which is funded by Freemasons, their families and friends, from across England and Wales.

Prof Fraser commented: “We are really very grateful for the support of the region’s Freemasons. Every single test is vital in the fight against this disease, and this equipment will make a huge difference.”

Head of Norfolk Freemasons, Stephen Allen, said:

“I’m delighted that Freemasons from across four counties are working with Professor Fraser and his team at UEA on this hugely important project, which aims to get NHS and other key workers back to their jobs, serving the local community.”

David Ellis, Director of Development at UEA commented “we owe Mr Stephen Allen a particular debt of gratitude for the leadership he has shown in the region to rapidly garner support from his peers in three counties, helping to ensure the University can play the fullest possible role in facing the current pandemic”.

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