Doncaster lab grows sevenfold as its scientists help battle coronavirus pandemic
Nearly a year ago, Mark Jones joined two scientists working in a corner of Doncaster creating medical tests.
Mark is site leader at Abingdon Health’s Doncaster site, joining last April. This week we are looking at Doncaster’s lockdown heroes, a year after the borough first cases of Covid 19.
He said: “We’ve taken a site which, when I came on board, had two people. Now it has 15, producing high volume output processes. During that time we’ve re-kitted it out and put in environmentally controlled labs.
"We do the technical part of the testing kits. We construct the strips which get put inside a plastic housing at another site.”
At the Bullrush Grove site, near the B&Q at Doncaster Carr, they attach antibodies to tiny particles, and spray them onto a membrane. They put the correct chemicals onto card, which is cut into strips which are put inside a plastic casing elsewhere. They are being used at schools and businesses around the country to help stop the spread of Covid by spotting cases with no symptoms.
"It’s a scientific skill,” said Mark. “We are from scientific backgrounds.
"We have increased the numbers here from two to 15 people and been able to manufacture a lot of materials in a short space of time.
"We have a predominantly young team who are very hard working and I think they have missed having the opportunity to de-stress at the weekends. The job has become our working life and social life.
“You come in and from the second you arrive you’re wearing a face mask, for seven and a half hours a day. Everyone social distances and we have daily temperature checks. In labs you have personal protective equipment, face masks, lab coat, glasses and hair nets. All that is exposed is your ears. You can’t see anyone’s facial expressions to read a scenario.”
They are looking to extend the site further, with plans for more lateral flow tests to be manufactured there, for various medical conditions.
Mark said the beauty of the tests was they were quick and easy.
They are an established technology, adapted to detect proteins called antigens, present when a person has a medical condition, such as Covid 19. The best-known example of a lateral flow test is the home pregnancy test kit.
"The pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes to these tests,” said Mark.
"They are really important in dealing with the pandemic. For us, there is a pride in just doing a good job in a professional lab and knowing that what we are doing is helping to fight the pandemic."
He said he felt they were saving lives.
Mark said he was lucky he had not known anyone who had suffered Covid. “But I know people who have had close family members who have had it and unfortunately passed away," he added.
"It reinforces how careful you need to be.
"We feel we are making a contribution to getting things back to normality.
Abingdon Health hopes to make 3million tests per week by the end of 2021.