University of Leeds steps up to help tackle coronavirus crisis

The University is playing its part in helping to reduce the burden of coronavirus (covid-19), both at a regional and national level.

As one of the largest research-focused universities in the UK, with a broad interdisciplinary base to draw on, the University of Leeds is marshalling world-leading expertise and equipment as well as influential networks in the collaborative fight against the virus.

It has also volunteered its campus, opening up pathology and microbiology laboratories in the School of Medicine and contributing staff and equipment to give additional capacity for diagnostic testing in support of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust.

It is providing support to the NHS through use of its car parks and accommodation, joint working on IT and security, expertise and resources in screening, volunteers and equipment for national and regional screening initiatives, hardware for production of parts for ventilators, and specific research projects that use the specialist expertise within the academic community.

In addition, the dental hospital remains open to deal with emergencies, easing the burden on NHS facilities.
Professor Paul Stewart, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health, said:

“This government has set out a strong commitment to tackle COVID-19 with science, innovation and a strong evidence base at its core.

“The use of patient data and linkage across partner organisations, analysed through our flagship Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, offers a powerful way to understand COVID-19 infection, from transmission, identification of high risk patients to novel interventions.”

Across the University, staff are being deployed to lead and support:

A national, co-ordinated approach is key to ensure prioritisation of research efforts, and Leeds is hosting the NIHR Clinical Research Network which will be the gateway for this work, led by Professor Stewart;

The University’s 200-plus clinical academic staff, jointly-funded with partner NHS Trusts, are now prioritising front-line activity over research and academic duties, thus increasing the capacity of local NHS services;

More than 100 skilled technical staff, usually employed on research contracts, have volunteered to help run local and national COVID-19 diagnostic testing facilities;

Laboratory scientists from the Faculty of Biological Sciences and Faculty of Medicine and Health will be helping with the testing process at national centres across the country and will also support local NHS laboratories. The varied skills of these staff are being matched with the needs of the NHS;

Many staff who hold healthcare qualifications have volunteered to return to the NHS, including doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

Our students

Discussions to fast-track more than 1,000 final year medical and nursing students into the NHS are well underway.

Working closely with national regulators – the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and Health Education England – the University is in the final stages of plans to deliver new health professionals to the NHS as soon as possible.

Our equipment

The University has sent seven major pieces of laboratory equipment to the NHS and to a new testing centre in Milton Keynes.

It is also working with the Department for Health and Social Care to supply high-level equipment that facilitates sequencing, and has made available masks, eyewear and other protective supplies.

Leeds Institute for Data Analytics

The Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) is realigning its workforce to address covid-19 projects and has reached out across the University for skilled individuals to join these teams. LIDA, a partner of The Alan Turing Institute, is home to the University’s multidisciplinary teams of data scientists – many of whom already work on health-related projects including the epidemiologies of heart disease and cancer.

Much of the fight against the covid-19 pandemic is being guided by the analysis and modelling of data. This will continue as the disease extends through the UK.

Researchers will have access to a wealth of new data about the dynamics of this new disease: how it spreads, who is becoming ill, how it might interact with people’s existing health conditions. Society can become more intelligent about how to tackle the virus.

Dr Layik Hama is a Research Fellow at LIDA. He wants to use data visualisation to develop a detailed picture of the way the disease is spreading across the UK, to identify patterns across towns, cities and local authorities.

He said: “We are currently using data released by Public Health England and exploring integration across unique international research datasets to create a big picture about what is happening.

“What are the factors causing the great spatial variations between our towns and cities? If we can begin to answer that question, we might identify practices in some localities that are causing faster spread of the diseases – or measures that are effectively containing it.”

Dr Hama is part of a group of academics engaged in the acquisition and analysis of more localised data.

A map highlighting disease clusters. March 2020The image shows the impact of covid-19 across South and West Yorkshire as of March 27th. It reveals how some towns and cities are seeing more cases than others. The software used to create the visualisation is called Turing Geo-visualization Engine, funded by the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund

Other LIDA projects include:

Data mining health records in partnership with the NHS to identify people who might be more risk of coronavirus because of pre-existing health conditions. Those people can then be advised to take extra safeguards;
Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Co-Director of LIDA and Paul Kind, Professor of Health Economics, have secured funding to study health-related quality of life impact during the pandemic. Data will be taken from China and the UK.
The creation of a global acute coronary syndrome covid-19 registry/database which will collect information about patients infected with the virus and who have a heart attack.
LIDA researchers have recently received emergency funding from the MRC to measure and simulate infection and control policies within COVID-infected wards in a London Hospital.
LIDA is also at the forefront of important research that will investigate the longer-term consequences of the infection on social behaviour, economic performance and community cohesion.
Professor Gale said the key aim for LIDA was to provide new information based on data analysis for health policymakers, and to understand early clinical information about the disease.

He said: “This is the first time we can try and understand a disease as it unfolds around us.

“This information could be vital to help people protect themselves and for healthcare teams to offer more effective treatment options.”

In an email to staff, Professor Gale and fellow Co-Director, Professor Mark Birkin, said many organisations and other parts of the University were involved in the fight to tackle the virus – LIDA among them. They added: “At LIDA, we have a rich resource of talent and expertise.

“In view of the importance which our own Institute has attached to the social benefit of its work, we would like to commit LIDA to a similar humanitarian path in such a way that our resources are deployed in these most testing of circumstances.”