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, to help tackle the pandemic, capacity at the laboratory has increased to 1,000-1,200 samples per day. 

Enfer, in Kildare, has provided its laboratories to set up a SARS-CoV-2 testing facility under the direction of the NVRL. Staff from UCD School of Veterinary Medicine provided specialised training in testing procedures. At current capacity, Enfer can deliver 6,500 tests a day, although this will increase to 9,000 tests per day in the coming weeks. 

This means the NVRL and Enfer combined set-up will ultimately deliver 10,000 out of the Government’s target of 15,000 tests daily through the national system.

The NVRL has also partnered with the DAFM State Laboratory at Backweston to bring additional testing capacity into the system. And Genomics Medicine Ireland has partnered with the NVRL to manufacture a laboratory developed PCR assay (based on the WHO assay) for use at Enfer.  

In addition to its diagnostic work, and with assistance from colleagues at the UCD Conway institute, the NVRL was the first Irish laboratory to sequence Irish strains of SARS-CoV-2.