Meet the methodologist: Amanda Winter
Amanda joined the NIHR Newcastle In Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative (NIHR Newcastle MIC) in 2019. She trained as a Biomedical Scientist where she worked in a variety of clinical laboratories.
Since January 2021, Amanda has helped to establish the Innovation Laboratory within the Integrated COVID Hub North East. This service is supporting academics and companies from across the world by helping to develop and validate their COVID-19 diagnostics. Amanda is ensuring that we have strong ties with the Innovation Laboratory and that robust evaluation methodology is embedded in their projects.
How have you found your move to the Innovation Laboratory?
I’ve never worked in a laboratory that’s started from scratch before. It’s built a lot of camaraderie having to get something off the ground so quickly and they are a really nice team. The amount that’s been achieved in six months is incredible. We gave ourselves some tough targets at the beginning and we have done everything that we said we were going to do. So, something to be proud of!
What does your work with the Innovation Laboratory involve and how has your experience working with the MIC helped?
Originally, we were delivering evaluations on behalf of the Department of Health. Now, because we have our own commercial clients, we’re starting to design studies and evaluations of our own. Most of my time now is spent on study design. I also do some data management and dabble with a bit of statistical analysis.
Working at the MIC, and having the involvement with the MIC, has definitely helped the innovation lab to get going quicker. It has been great being able to bring that experience and guidance to the team from the beginning around evaluating new diagnostics. The work of the MIC has really helped us to understand how to take a pragmatic approach to diagnostic research to suit the situation.
Working with commercial partners, and the interface between the NHS and industry, is something that the MIC also does very well. And something that I’ve learned from working at the MIC.
Tell us a bit about the work of the Innovation Laboratory and how it links with the MIC?
Right now, our primary focus is COVID-19 diagnostics. But secondary to that is any other diagnostic. And tertiary to that is early technologies which we feel might have an application in diagnostics. We can try and co-develop what a diagnostic using that technology might look like and what it might do.
I think going forward in the future, that is where we could work more closely with the MIC. We could identify where the biggest unmet clinical needs are. We could then make a prototype with the innovator and bring it back to the innovation lab and see if it does what we hoped it would do. All within that clinically informed setting.
What do you enjoy most about this work?
Being able to practice what I preach! I spent my time at the MIC talking about the importance of robust laboratory methods. Working in the innovation lab is an opportunity to make sure that is done. It then leads so nicely and neatly onto the other clinical evaluation studies that follow.
Sometimes you must think creatively about how you fulfil all those requirements with limited resources. So, you have to problem solve which I’ve really enjoyed too!
It’s also a really fun opportunity being able to set up the lab and say that you helped to build it. So, it’s been pretty rewarding and a really good experience!
What have been the challenges?
There have been some bureaucratic hurdles with setting up the lab. Also, at times, we have had difficulty obtaining samples as we were relying on patients who had been admitted into hospital. We now have a process in place to collect samples from people in the community. This is allowing us to get a wider representation of samples, do evaluations in different settings and ask more probing research questions.
What are the three take home messages you would like the public to know from this work?
It’s really important that the scientific basis of a test is correct. That ensures that when you do use it in a real-world settling, like a hospital or a doctor surgery, that it behaves in a way that is predictable and safe. Time well invested at the beginning really does make a difference later down the line as you can rely on that data because you’ve collected it in a carefully controlled way.
The Innovation Lab is helping to foster relationships between the NHS, industry, and academia to ensure they work together collaboratively. This is important because ideas might come out of academia or industry or the NHS but eventually they all have to go through each other. You need industry to manufacture your idea, the basic science in academia often underpins innovation and if we want to ensure patient benefit, we need to evaluate the technologies in the NHS.
Clinical laboratories work under a lot of pressure to deliver forward patient facing care. There isn’t always space in that environment to take an innovative approach. The Innovation Lab can maintain the closeness to the NHS labs through having a workspace that’s outside of that clinical service and can offer that collaborative spirit. We can also tell our clinical colleagues about the latest innovations that are on the horizon.
Are there opportunities for the public to get involved and help with this work?
The public can participate in the research by donating samples. We are also encouraging our commercial partners to include Patient Public Involvement in their projects so watch this space!
What is coming next with the work?
We are looking to increase the number of our commercial partners even further. We appreciate they might be unable to self-fund this work so we also plan to collaborate with them on grant applications. In the future we hope to work with the MIC as collaborators or co-applicants on grants too. We would also like to strengthen our integration into Diagnostics North East and our offering within it. I would also like to publish some of our findings as well.
Outside of work, what are you looking forward to during the rest of 2021?
I love a good caravan trip! We went to Southwest Scotland recently and we’re going to York in August. My nephew was born recently so also hoping to spend time with him!
If you would like to submit an enquiry to the Innovation Laboratory you can e-mail them at: firstname.lastname@example.org