Research News

UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory wins Healthcare Lab of the Year 2021

  • 30 May, 2021


This year's Irish Laboratory Awards (ILA) have recognised the extraordinary contribution of the UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory in Ireland's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The virology lab, based on the UCD campus, was awarded Healthcare Laboratory of the Year in the 2021 national awards, which recognise the work of labs throughout the country in categories including Academic or Research, Commercial, Bio Science, Chemical, Agricultural, Food and Educational Laboratory, as well as best Team, Individual or Innovation in an Irish laboratory.  


In awarding the NVRL, the ILA judges commended the operation as a "Diagnostic and research laboratory whose scale-up and innovation has had massive societal impact during the past year" and said that "UCD NVRL staff were instrumental in the successful rollout of SARS-CoV-2 testing for the country."


Following the award, Director of UCD NVRL Dr Cillian de Gascun said: "We thank The Irish Laboratory Awards for recognising the work of UCD NVRL. However, we represent a much larger team, including the HSE, Deparment of Health, Health Protection Surveillance Centre and laboratory partners nationally, without whose support our response would not have been possible."


UCD NVRL is the principal diagnostic virology laboratory for samples submitted by hospital laboratories within Health Service Executive (HSE) Regions and from General Practitioners. In addition, the laboratory functions as a confirmatory and reference centre for those laboratories that perform their own initial viral investigations. Furthermore, the NVRL also participates in disease surveillance programmes on behalf of the Department of Health (DoH).


Originally established in 1963 on a not for profit basis, the NVRL was set up at the behest of the DoH, in order to provide national poliovirus surveillance and to fulfil Ireland’s World Health Organisation mandate, on behalf of the DoH, as the WHO accredited National Influenza Centre (NIC). Subsequently, the NVRL with the approval of the DoH expanded to provide a diagnostic and reference function for the Irish health service.


The NVRL is an unincorporated entity sitting within University College Dublin. From a governance perspective the President of UCD retains oversight of the NVRL through an appointed advisory committee, chaired by the College Principal of Health and Agricultural Sciences. The Laboratory Director, Dr Cillian De Gascun, has responsibility for the operation and direction of the NVRL service.


As the largest medical virology laboratory in the country, the facility ordinarily processed 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), consolidated Covid-19 testing at a satellite laboratory at the DAFM Backweston Campus, Co Kildare. From 8 March 2021 all Covid-related swab testing was 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.


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The Irish Laboratory Awards recognise excellence and achievement in the laboratory environment, covering management, innovation, collaboration, personnel development and laboratory equipment supply. Whether you are a commercial laboratory or research or academic, this is the awards programme for you.

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