Responding to a call Ben-Gurion University of the Negev put out for volunteers, more than 100 University scientists and graduate students have been working in shifts since last week to test blood samples to see if they contain the coronavirus. The Clinical Virology Lab at Soroka University Medical Center, managed by Prof. Yonat Shemer-Avni, now tests more than 400 samples per day.
According to Ministry of Health directives, only researchers and doctoral students with experience in biology/bio-medicine can volunteer to help in the lab. From the small pool of researchers and students with the appropriate experience, there were close to 100 volunteers – departmental heads, faculty members and doctoral students from BGU's Faculties of Health Sciences and Natural Sciences, who began to work in shifts at the lab during the week and on the weekend.
Avishay Edri (pictured below), a doctoral student in the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics initiated the project: “On a day to day basis, I research the Ebola virus. Ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus, I have been following what is going on around the world and in Israel. If I can help, I think it is my civic duty to do so. When I realized that the situation was critical and that the rate of processing blood samples was slowing because of a personnel shortage, I proposed enlisting volunteers with the right training from BGU to find as many carriers as possible and isolate them. I am pleased that so many have joined the effort."
This is just one of the efforts that the BGU Coronavirus Task Force, under the leadership of Deputy VP for R&D Prof. Angel Porgador, is organizing.
Dr. Roi Gazit, a researcher in the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics, is also volunteering in the lab: “ When we got to the lab the first morning, we were met with a large pile of samples which needed to be tested. With many pairs of hands now available, we quickly managed to get rid of the “jam", testing all the samples quickly and efficiently, to help ease the pressure on the lab team and, most importantly, get results to those who have been tested in the quickest possible time."
The lab has even been able to take on more samples from other parts of the country for testing at times as a result of adding the volunteers.
Dr. Gazit said that he was not worried for himself or the other lab and volunteer members, “We are fine, but I am concerned for my parents. We have to take care of the older people and those with weakened immune systems – now we are making even more of an effort for them."
Pictured above from left to right: Prof. Angel Porgador, Dr. Roi Gazit, and Avishay Edri