More than 1000 Manchester NHS staff taking part in COVID-19 research to help better understand Coronavirus

Michelle Hepburn, Clinical Research Practitioner at MFT, provides a blood sample as part of the PHE ESCAPE-COVID research study at MFT

Staff at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) already caring for patients on the frontline, and those supporting their colleagues to do so, are now helping fight the battle against COVID-19 by taking part in a population research study to help better understand Coronavirus and how best to test for it.

MFT, one of the leading NHS Trusts for research and innovation, is the only NHS site to be part of the Public Health England (PHE) ESCAPE-COVID observational study, looking at the development and changes in antibodies linked to COVID-19. This will inform PHE understanding of the virus, including how quickly it is spreading.

Michelle Hepburn, Clinical Research Practitioner, and Margretha Amegadzie, Senior Clinical Research Nurse, have both taken part in the study. Michelle said: “Our roles involve running clinical trials on a daily basis; carrying out patient clinical visits including vital signs and taking bloods, administering the trial-specific medication, and organisation of participant clinical visits, but we never thought we’d be part of a study – especially one so critical to everyone around the world. It was a privilege to be asked to support PHE and NHS colleagues with the ESCAPE study.”

More than 1000 staff have been recruited to the study and they will provide blood samples, once a month for six months. The study is being run from the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facilities at Manchester Royal Infirmary and Wythenshawe Hospital, which provide dedicated research space – including for COVID-19 research studies.

Prof. Neil Hanley, Group Director of Research and Innovation at MFT, said: “There is a critical need for a reliable antibody test, that can be scaled up, to determine if people have previously had COVID-19. The hope is to detect antibodies, part of the immune system that usually protects you from another dose of the same infection. The challenge is specificity; the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is related to the common cold. Making sure any test picks up the right antibodies and only those antibodies, is crucial.”

A reliable antibody test could make a huge difference to both frontline health and social care, and for life in general. The samples from MFT healthcare workers will firstly be used by PHE to determine which is the most accurate coronavirus antibody test. The best test can then be rolled out across the NHS. The study will also follow antibody levels in MFT healthcare workers over time to understand if these antibodies prevent further coronavirus infection.

Prof. Hanley continued: “Although it is early days, the hope is you can say to someone: you’ve had it, you’re fit, and you have immunity. Obviously, that could carry a massive impact for the NHS workforce and whether the wider public can return to their everyday lives, including caring for isolated friends and relatives.”

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