Since the outbreak of COVID-19, experts from across UEA have provided vital support and advice for some of the world's leading health bodies.

We have applied existing research to the pandemic and initiated new research projects to help, both now and in the future. 

Antibody testing

Prof Bill Fraser, Head of Norwich Medical School at UEA and a Consultant Metabolic Physician at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, is working with a team of scientists and clinicians developing a new COVID-19 antibody test.

COVID-19 antibody tests are crucial in the long-term fight and recovery from the pandemic as they could detect if a person has had the virus before and has since recovered. Otherwise known as a "serological test" a sample is taken that tests the blood for coronavirus antibodies to see if a person has had the virus and gained some immunity to it.

Prospective studies will identify individuals who have generated antibodies, who will then be followed long-term to see if the antibodies confer immunity that would allow them to return to work – which is particularly critical for our NHS workers. This could further enable the general population to return to their daily lives safe in the knowledge that they have some immunity. We will also be able to better identify and protect those who remain most vulnerable who have not produced any antibodies to COVID-19. The test may also be able to identify subjects who generate an antibody response to a vaccine and identify how long the antibody is generated in response to the vaccine.

Thanks to philanthropic support, Prof Fraser has been able to purchase specialist equipment that will enable the team to scale up testing from 600 tests to over 2000 a day.

Modelling the pandemic

Paul HunterProf Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at UEA, is an expert in infectious diseases, specialising in Medical Microbiology and Virology. Prof Hunter has been a major voice in the UK media on COVID-19, he is a member of two World Health Organisation (WHO) committees advising on the global response to the pandemic.

His research so far has most recently focused on the effectiveness of the use of facemasks in prevention of disease outside of a hospital environment and the impact of ‘fake news’ or misinformation on disease outbreaks.

Prof Hunter's new research is now focusing on developing models that will let us more accurately predict what the future of COVID-19 looks like and what the long-term consequences are going to be. The sooner we start looking at recovery and modelling what this disease could look like in the future, the greater chance we have of swift economic and social recovery, and quick containments of future outbreaks of the disease.

Philanthropic support would enable Prof Hunter's team to build on existing grants from the National Institute of Health Research which fund their research on low probability high- impact events. The team will use this funding to bring together global experts from all fields including public health specialists, economists and social scientists to work together collaboratively on developing strategies for more rapid recovery from this pandemic and better ways to manage and control future global pandemic threats.

The sooner we start modelling what this disease could look like in the future, the greater chance we have of swift economic and social recovery, and quick containments of future outbreaks of the disease.

Professor Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at UEA

Is your coronavirus infectious?

Dr Stuart Rushworth, group leader for molecular haematology research at Norwich Medical School, is working in support of the NHS to produce coronavirus tests and expand testing capacity for staff and patients in hospitals, care homes and GP practices.

Current tests for COVID-19 determine whether a patient has or has had the virus, which can be present in the nasal cavity (dead or alive) for many weeks. However, Dr Rushworth is developing a test which can determine those who have the live, replicating virus and are infectious, and those who have the dead virus and are not infectious.

The result? Those who aren’t infectious can return to work supporting essential services much sooner than is currently possible.

Once developed, the new polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test will be used with frontline NHS staff at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Once validated, it could be rolled out for other scientists across the UK to use to increase testing capacity in their region.

Dr Rushworth and his team aim to raise £113,000 to purchase crucial equipment to develop and validate the new test. Not only will this project protect lives and help contain the spread of the virus, it could also help us avoid future lockdowns and their devastating economic impact if the virus resurges in winter.

Portable Coronavirus test kit

Dr Justin O’Grady, research group leader at the donor-supported Quadram Institute is working on developing a portable test kit for COVID-19. The test takes just 50 minutes from sample to result and could be ready for use by NHS staff within a few short weeks.

The kit requires a throat swab sample for the molecular test, with results displaying on a smartphone. The test could be performed by semi-skilled healthcare professionals and process 16 samples at a time, enabling NHS staff to be tested more quickly, reducing the risk to potentially vulnerable patients.

The pilot study is underway to ensure the test performs to a good standard and the team hope it will be validated as soon as possible.

Informing Policy in Nigeria

Dr Hannah Hoechner is a Lecturer in Education and International Development in the School of International Development at UEA. 

Hannah’s latest research seeks to document experiences of the COVID-19 outbreak in northern Nigeria.

Northern Nigeria has a history of resistance against global public health measures, often due to their problematic implementation and rumours undermining trust in these measures. Actions taken to contain the COVID-19 outbreak have similarly been met by widespread suspicion and trust undermined further by perceptions of Nigerian politicians as corrupt.

Hannah aims to carry out research to establish a better understanding of how people ‘on the ground’ experience the pandemic as well as the measures taken to contain it. The findings will seek to inform the policy response to the outbreak in Nigeria, as well as in other contexts where trust in state institutions and global public health coalitions is historically low.

Philanthropic support would enable Hannah to purchase the necessary equipment required for participants on the ground to record their experience of the pandemic, including telephone devices and access to the internet.

This research could inform a policy response which is more effective, and ultimately could save lives both now and for future global public health emergencies.

How you can help

Please donate now to support COVID-19 research and join the fight against COVID-19.

If you’d like to find out more, or make a larger gift, contact the Development Office at giving@uea.ac.uk.

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