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Impact Award for DPhil’s role in developing rapid diagnostic test used in UK airports

MPLS COVID-19 Award recognises Boon Lim’s contribution to designing early experiments, overseeing clinical trials and setting up airport testing labs

Boon Lim

Engineering DPhil Student Boon Lim has won an MPLS (Maths, Physics and Life Sciences Division) Impact Award for his role in the development of a COVID-19 rapid diagnostic test now used in multiple UK airports.

The MPLS Impact Awards scheme aims to foster and raise awareness of impact by rewarding it at a local level. A special COVID-19 Impact category was added this year, alongside the usual categories of Commercial, Social, Early Career and Public Engagement.

The idea for a rapid, accurate and affordable test was conceived in February 2020 by Engineering Science Professors Wei Huang and Zhanfeng Cui, leading a team of researchers in Oxford and at the Oxford-Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) in China. After being approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Oxsed RaViD Direct was adopted by Heathrow Airport in the UK’s first pre-departure airport rapid testing facility and is now being used at multiple testing sites in different countries, including six international airports within the UK.

Boon Lim says of the Award, "Seeing the test kit being applied in the real world has been a surreal experience, and I thank Professor Zhanfeng Cui, Professor Wei Huang and Dr Monique Andersson for welcoming me to the team to combat one of the greatest healthcare challenges facing humanity".

A DPhil student specialising in molecular biology, Boon Lim was responsible for the design and implementation of early experiments for the test. Boon also assisted in overseeing the clinical trials in June at Oxford University Hospitals. He says, “By June 2020, we managed to conclude our initial clinical validation and obtained our first CE-certified product and received regulatory approvals with MHRA for COVID-19 testing”.

Boon played a key role in advising commercial companies and research groups on the correct protocol for using the Oxsed RaViD Direct kit on site, and in setting up airport testing labs and providing training and supervision to lab technicians at the airport sites.

Engineering Science Head of Department Professor Ronald A. Roy adds, “The impact of this optimised RT-LAMP assay is clearly indicated by its adoption as a rapid screening test by major airports in the UK and Hong Kong. It is further bolstered by the fact it is the underpinning technology for a spinout (Oxsed) that has since been bought out by a large corporation (Prenetics); to date, Oxsed is the university’s fastest conception-to-exit social venture. I would also like to stress the significance of having a postgraduate student run with this challenge”.

The Impact Awards were announced by MPLS Associate Head of Division for Industrial Liaison and Innovation Professor Dermot O’Hare, who said, “We were very pleased with the high quality of nominations received. This year, the panel was very keen to recognise achievements under a fifth impact category – COVID19 – for two exceptional researchers who have made a difference, contributing to wider efforts to mitigate the covid pandemic.”


Prenetics collaboration

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