Guy's Hospital names Covid lab after pioneer who discovered the virus

Wednesday 9 September 2020

June Almeida at microscope

A new COVID-19 laboratory in Guy’s Hospital has been named after the woman who first discovered coronavirus.

June Almeida, a virologist and pioneer in virus imaging, made the discovery in 1964 at the laboratory where she worked in St Thomas’ Hospital. The hospital is now part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

COVID-19 is a new coronavirus in the same family as the one first identified by June. Coronaviruses cause a range of respiratory diseases from the common cold to life-threatening pneumonia.

The new laboratory, which is a collaboration between Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College London (KCL) and Viapath, has been set up in response to the national need to increase COVID-19 testing for patients, NHS staff, students and the general population.

Scientists in the laboratory will also conduct research into developing technologies to detect COVID-19 and other known or emerging respiratory viruses. They will study the COVID-19 antibody response and the biology of the disease as well. It is hoped that this will lead to new ways to protect and treat patients.

The laboratory currently has capacity to process more than 400 tests per day but there are a range of technologies being assessed that could rapidly increase capacity when needed.

Professor Jonathan Edgeworth, Director of the Centre for Clinical Infection and Diagnostics Research at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London and Viapath Medical Director, said: “We are delighted to open our new June Almeida COVID-19 laboratory. June Almeida was a pioneering scientist whose work has greatly increased our understanding of the virus so it is very fitting that our new facility is named in her honour.

“The lab has increased our capacity to process COVID-19 tests and supports the national drive to track and prevent the spread of the virus. It will also contribute to research to improve our knowledge and understanding of the virus. I’m proud of the teams from Viapath and KCL who worked extremely hard to bring the lab into use as a COVID-19 diagnostics and research centre.”

Richard Rolt, Chief Operations Officer at Viapath, said: “We are delighted to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s Health Partners and King’s College London to support the COVID-19 response. 

“It’s been great to see colleagues from different working environments, including those who have been redeployed and away from the laboratory environment for some time, come together to share their working practices. It has been particularly impressive to see them rise to the challenge of bringing the new June Almeida laboratory into service, to the highest possible standards of quality, with such speed.”

Dr Rocio Martinez-Nunez, from the School of Immunology and Microbial Sciences at King’s, said: “We are delighted to be working in the June Almeida lab and contributing to the diagnostics of COVID-19. By working in this way we are increasing our knowledge of diagnostics and how to integrate different disciplines. I’m very thankful to everyone involved in the lab, especially our volunteers, for their time, help, and expertise during this very difficult time.”

Despite leaving school with very little formal education, June Almeida developed new microscopy techniques, which were revolutionary for the field of virology. She died in 2007 at the age of 77.

Last updated: March 2022

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