UCD Covid-19 Response

The UCD Community is rising to the challenge posed by the global pandemic

Testing at the National Virus Reference Laboratory


The UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) was established by UCD in 1963 at the behest of the Department of Health.  Despite being located on the university campus in Belfield, Dublin, the NVRL is externally funded (originally by the Department directly, and in recent years by the Irish Health Service Executive).

It is run by Director Dr Cillian De Gascun, who is chair of the Covid-19 Expert Advisory Group to NPHET (the National Public Health Emergency Team).

The NVRL is the largest medical virology laboratory in the country, ordinarily processing in the region of 2500-3000 respiratory samples a month during the influenza season. However, up to end of January 2021, approximately 175,000 SARS-CoV-2 samples were tested at NVRL.

As part of the programme to support the ongoing national pandemic response, the NVRL with the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), is consolidating Covid-19 testing at a satellite laboratory at the DAFM Backweston Campus, Co. Kildare. From 8 March 2021 all Covid related swab testing will be undertaken at the Backweston site, enabling the UCD lab to focus on non-Covid testing. This dual campus approach is part of the HSE-NVRL programme to increase national clinical diagnostic resilience and capacity.

Current daily capacity at NVRL Backweston is 2,500 samples daily.

Since producing the first sequences for Irish SARS-CoV-2 cases at the beginning of the pandemic, the NVRL Sequencing Team has overseen the generation of over 4,000 viral sequences, as well as taking the lead in identifying new viral variants, such as the 'UK Kent variant' B.1.1.7. The NVRL is the official diagnostic partner in the HSE SARS-CoV-2 surveillance programme.