Sophie Richardson - scientist cancer research mega lab covid-19 testing

A scientist from Nantwich is one of a group of Cancer Research UK volunteers testing thousands of patient samples each day for coronavirus.

Sophie Richardson, 22, is based at the new Lighthouse Lab at Alderley Park in Cheshire, led by Medicines Discovery Catapult.

The former Malbank School student, a scientific officer at Cancer Research UK’s Manchester Institute, part of the University of Manchester, is one of 30 Cancer Research UK volunteers working alongside industry partners at the government mega-lab.

Cancer Research UK volunteers are involved in all parts of the testing process.

This include de-bagging nose and throat swabs delivered daily across the UK, extracting genetic material from samples, and running tests which identify Covid-19 virus.

After Malbank, Sophie studied Genetics at the University of Manchester, where she graduated with a first-class degree in 2019.

In January this year, she joined a team of scientists who work on ground-breaking cancer discoveries at Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute’s laboratories, currently based at Alderley Park.

But with many laboratories shut down, Cancer Research UK scientists like Sophie are volunteering their expertise to the national and global effort to beat Covid-19.

Sophie said: “When I heard that the new lab was looking for volunteers, I put myself forward right away.

“I’d only been in my role at the Manchester Institute for a few months before lab work was paused in March, but I wanted to put my skills to good use in the meantime.

“It’s a really supportive environment in the labs and it’s amazing to see how everyone’s pulled together to make this happen at such speed.

“What we’re doing here is part of history and it feels good to know I’m helping the country beat this virus.”

Cancer Research UK has seen a surge of activity among its research community to tackle Covid-19.

Sophie normally works with the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute’s world-renowned Cancer Biomarker Centre who analyse blood samples from cancer patients to develop life-saving treatments.

She said: “There are lots of skills from my cancer research which transfer into the coronavirus lab.

“For example, both areas of science use various molecular techniques which can be used to help detect traces of virus.

“The discipline we have as lab-based scientists is really important too.

“The coronavirus testing lab is a big operation, we have to make sure all the work is meticulously done in the right way at the right time.”

Testing Minister Lord Bethell said: “Many extraordinary people are playing a vital role in the national effort to fight coronavirus and rapidly increase testing.

“I’d like to personally thank Sophie for volunteering to work at the Lighthouse Lab in Alderley Park.

“She is part of what is now the biggest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history – a phenomenal achievement, helping to make sure anyone who needs a test can get one.”

Prof Peter Simpson, Chief Scientific Officer, Medicines Discovery Catapult and Director, Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab, said: “The Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab has been set up at an unprecedented pace and scale to respond to an urgent national need.

“This would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of all the scientific volunteers from research charities, universities, and industry, who have stepped forward to collaborate and utilise their skills in the fight against Covid-19.

“The volunteers from Cancer Research UK have been instrumental in progressing testing, and we can’t thank them enough for their continued commitment.”

The Lighthouse Lab at Alderley Park is part of the biggest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history.

Similar mega-labs have been set up in Glasgow and Milton Keynes.

As well as volunteering, Sophie and her team are making plans for future research.

She said: “While the world is in the grip of coronavirus, we are very aware that cancer doesn’t stop.

“We are all busy making plans for future cancer experiments and are looking forward to getting back to our job of beating cancer as soon as possible.”

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