UCL’s virus detecting machines to bolster Covid-19 testing programme

In response to an urgent request by UK government, UCL has provided 13 sophisticated virus detecting machines, which will enable thousands more people to be tested for Covid-19.

Following the call from the Prime Minister’s Office, Professor David Lomas, Vice Provost (Health) at UCL, took an immediate decision to free up all the university’s ThermoFisher PCR (polymer chain reaction) machines. These are normally used to carry out groundbreaking research into cures for cancer, dementia and infectious diseases.

PCR machines use Next Generation Sequencing to analyse a patient’s saliva/swab sample, and take just a few hours to detect the presence of a virus’ DNA/RNA.

Today (20 March, 2020) soldiers from the Coldstream Guards picked up the hi-tech machines, which are dotted across UCL’s London campus, before taking them to the UK ’s testing facility near Milton Keynes.

Professor Lomas said: "In order to get on top of this pandemic, it is vital Covid-19 testing is increased, and doctors and patients have access to the results quickly.

"Critically we need to be able to test the thousands of frontline NHS staff, who are treating patients, and need to be self-isolating should they too be infected.

"While these PCR machines typically carry vital research work, we had no hesitation in freeing up this equipment to the UK government, during this national crisis.

"These machines will significantly bolster the nation’s testing programme. We stand ready to assist wherever we can."


  • Professor David Lomas’ academic profile
  • UCL’s decision to free up clinical academics to support the NHS


Coldstream Guards soldier outside the Cruciform. Credit: Claire Glen

Henry Killworth 

Tel: +44 (0) 207 679 5296

E: h.killworth [at] ucl.ac.uk

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