A TALENTED scientist from Glencraig has temporarily switched from studying breast cancer to join the national effort that's tackling Covid-19.

As research labs across the country remain closed, Dr Grant McGregor, a researcher at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow, used his skills and knowledge to assist in setting up a major coronavirus testing facility in the city at record speed.

It's checking thousands of samples a day with machines that he normally uses to examine, for example, DNA in tumour samples now helping to ascertain if people are suffering from the virus.

Grant said: "Research on cancer is still our priority, but the virus must be tackled too. By helping the global effort to tackle Covid-19, we hope we can get back to beating cancer as soon as possible.”

The 31-year-old Fifer was one of the first six scientist volunteers who were tasked with getting the facility up and running in just three weeks, enabling thousands of tests to be processed every day.

He said: "When I found out people were volunteering, I thought to myself, 'Is there anything I could do to help?'"

The result is the Lighthouse Laboratory which is part of the biggest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history, there are also sites in Milton Keynes and near Manchester.

Grant and a team of researchers from the University of Glasgow quickly established an efficient ‘production line’ for processing samples, from unpacking the nose and throat swabs, to transferring samples and extracting genetic material.

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine, which is normally used in cancer research, identifies the presence of the virus. As well as volunteers, the cancer research facility has donated four of the machines and other specialist equipment.

Grant said: “The first test plate we processed, and the first plate of patient samples, were run on one of the Beatson machines. I’m quite proud of that actually.”

All of the staff in the Lighthouse Lab have to wear full PPE, which includes a surgical gown, two pairs of gloves, surgical mask and a visor – 3D printed by the uni's engineering department – or goggles.

Grant is one of around 100 scientist volunteers working on processing Covid-19 tests coming in from across the country.

The Fife scientist’s ‘normal’ day job is to study breast cancer, and how certain molecules in breast cancer cells help the disease to spread.

However, the work of cancer researchers across the country has been severely hampered as universities have partially closed, laboratories have had to wind down their activities and experiments have stopped.

Some scientists have volunteered to work at testing hubs and Grant said: "My mate Calum thinks it’s amazing.

"He said: ‘You better take care, you’ve got to be careful.’ But, to me, I’m just doing my work. It needs to be done and we turn up and get on with it the best that we can. I’m glad we’re able to contribute.

“I’m really thankful for the support I’ve had from my lab mates. They’ve helped me out with the experiments I still had ongoing and, without that, I wouldn’t have been able to put as much time in to working on setting up the Lighthouse Lab.

"Everybody’s been fantastic.”

And he believes it could help cancer patients in the long run too: "Doing the testing, I’ve met a couple of people I’ve got ideas from, so, while we’re not working on it directly just now, we’re still picking up more expertise and more ideas we can apply to our cancer research.

"We’re all making connections, it’s helping us build a bigger pool of people who could help us with our projects in the future.”