Science, Policy and Pandemics: Diagnostic Testing

14 April 2020


Reported by Kate McNeil, CSaP Communications Coordinator

How can scientific labs support the efforts to scale diagnostic testing for covid-19? As part of CSaP's podcast series Science, Policy and Pandemics, we sat down with Cambridge scientists to learn more about the epidemiology of covid-19 and to hear about one scientist's experience running a coronavirus diagnostic testing laboratory.

Listen to the discussion here:

Produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network, CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on science, policy and pandemics aims to answer questions about our understanding of the current pandemic, including the epidemiology, on what basis governments are making current decisions, how much confidence we can have in the knowledge models are producing, and how to manage the uncertainties involved in the present crisis.

In our third episode, Dr Rob Doubleday spoke with Professor Stephen Baker and Dr Caroline Trotter for a discussion about epidemiology and diagnostic testing for Covid-19.

Prior to the pandemic, Professor Stephen Baker's lab focused on molecular microbiology, where he studied bacteria that cause infectious disease in humans. Over the last few weeks, his lab has developed a new rapid test for infection with SARS-CoV2 and has transitioned to longitudinally swabbing healthcare workers at Cambridge's Addenbrookes Hospital, with the aim of reducing the spread of infection in the hospital setting. Throughout our discussion, he reflected on the challenges involved in setting up this testing facility - ranging from questions of validation and sample flows, to ethical approvals and testing protocols. Based on his experiences, Professor Baker suggests that he believes that we need both a central testing facility, and additional collaborations with smaller testing facilities who can add capacity, in order to be successful in increasing our national capacity to carry out rapid diagnostic testing throughout the pandemic. Here, he further suggests that transitioning the work of small laboratories who have and can repurpose the appropriate machines is both scalable and feasible, so long as regulatory standardization and a centralised blueprint for lab protocols are used.

Meanwhile, Dr Trotter explored broader questions about strategy, and the new opportunities for disease control which will be opened if the government reaches its aim of getting to 100,000 tests a day. Here, she emphasized that better understanding asymptomatic cases will be a crucial factor in the future control of this infectious disease, suggesting that getting a clear answer on the proportion of asymptomatic cases will be the "million-dollar question".

CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's special series on Science, Policy and Pandemics is available across all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Google Play, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Podbean, ListenNotes, Acast, Player.FM, Podcast Addict, and Castbox.


Cover Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash