ARU academics using expertise to tackle virus

Published: 27 April 2020 at 14:00

Professor Stephen Bustin

Professor Bustin and Dr Mwangi join global effort against COVID-19

Academic experts from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) have been called upon to use their expertise in the global battle against coronavirus – including trying to reduce the time it takes to test for the virus.

Stephen Bustin, Professor of Molecular Medicine, is researching ways of speeding up testing for coronavirus. Testing currently takes approximately 90 minutes, and it is hoped this can be reduced to just 20 minutes. In collaboration with clinicians at Mid Essex Hospitals NHS Trust, he is also working on a reliable method of quantifying the viral load – the amount of the virus present in a patient’s body.

Professor Bustin (pictured) is also a member of the coronavirus standards working group led by the Joint Initiative for Metrology in Biology at Stanford University, who are developing a set of guidelines to ensure the availability of common, appropriate standards, controls, validation tests and protocols that are essential for the accuracy of test results.

Professor Bustin is a world-renowned expert on quantitative polymerase chain reaction, a well-established method for the accurate, efficient and rapid method for nucleic acid detection. His book, The A-Z of Quantitative PCR has been described as ‘the Bible’ of qPCR.

In 2009, he led an international consortium that developed MIQE guidelines, encouraging better experimental practice, allowing more reliable and unequivocal interpretation of results, and which have been cited almost 10,000 times in peer-reviewed literature. Professor Bustin said:

“Testing for the presence of coronavirus is essential to monitoring and managing the current pandemic. The pace of testing in the UK so far has been slow and by collaborating with scientists worldwide, we hope to improve this.”

Last week, Professor Bustin published a primer about reverse transcription qPCR of the virus.

Meanwhile, ARU epidemiologist Dr Tabitha Mwangi is working with Development Media International (DMI) to support COVID-19 media campaigns encouraging behavioural change in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Mwangi is reviewing guidelines and using country-specific information to produce policy and context briefs for three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. This will enable DMI to support the governments of these countries with targeted communication responses to help tackle the pandemic. Dr Mwangi said:

“At the moment, cases and deaths as a result of COVID-19 are still low in Sub-Saharan African countries. Most African governments were quick to produce public health guidelines and to communicate the risk of spread to their populations. However, there is no indication that the disease is dying out. 

“DMI’s experience of changing health behaviour through mass media campaigns will provide much needed support in these countries, and I am honoured to be part of this endeavour.”