University lab plays key role in Gibraltar’s Covid-19 response

14th May 2020
A Covid-19 screening laboratory has been set up at the University of Gibraltar in a joint venture between the two entities, using equipment supplied by the GHA and the University.
The laboratory will exclusively be a Covid-19 screening laboratory combined with a contact-tracing bureau that will initially screen frontline workers, but will be rolled out to other sectors in the coming weeks and months. The decision as to who will be swabbed and when is taken by the Public Health Department.
Speaking of the University’s involvement in Gibraltar’s Covid-19 response, Vice-Chancellor Professor Catherine Bachleda said; “The University is delighted to be able to provide its laboratory facilities so as to increase screening capacity and thus contribute to Unlocking the Rock safely.”
Professor Bachleda went on to thank University staff and students, “I would like to say a special thank you to Dr Darren Fa our Director of Academic Programmes and Research, Jason Fa our Campus Manager, and Paul Bowling our CFOO  who have worked hard with our GHA and Public Health colleagues to set this lab up quickly.  Thanks also to the PhD students who have so generously given up their well-equipped research lab for a much smaller, temporary space and of course all of our students who by continuing to study at home have allowed us to use additional classroom space surrounding the laboratory.”
The tests processed by the lab will help identify people who are actively carrying the virus even without symptoms, and are different to antibody tests that will be rolled out at a later stage.
The new laboratory is run by the Covid-19 RT Lamp Team.
RT Lamp – which stands for Reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification – is a one-step method used to diagnose infectious disease caused by bacteria or viruses. This test has been pioneered with the help of local microbiologist Dr Nick Cortes and was brought over from the UK before it is being used there.
The team is headed up by Dr Daniel Cassaglia, Professor Derek Burke, Dr Zoe Vincent-Mistiaen, Wayne Acris and Edward Cruz Cerveca. “We needed clear and responsive strategic of screening, essentially going out looking for the virus in people that don’t have symptoms,” said Dr Cassaglia.
To ensure this method is effective it means that a “reasonable” number of people will need to be tested and the results received quickly afterwards, ideally within hours. They hope to test at least 300 people a day.
The laboratory will analyse swabs taken at the drive-through facility. The people tested will be largely asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic as the virus can be secreted two days before a person develops symptoms. The GHA diagnostic laboratory will remain at St Bernard’s where swabs for persons with Covid-19 symptoms will be tested as well as other daily usual tests carried out in a hospital.
This is not the first time that the University of Gibraltar has contributed to the response to Covid-19. Its specialist clinical simulation suite became the temporary base for the GHA’s Ophthalmic Clinic back in March this year.