Researcher awarded ‘Unsung COVID Heroes’ award for outbreak control work across schools

28 February 2022

Dr Amy Thomas, a Research Associate at Bristol Medical School and the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol, has been awarded an ‘Unsung COVID Heroes’ award from WISE, an organisation that promotes women in science, maths and engineering (STEM), for her work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Amy Thomas receiving her award from Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal

After identifying very early into the pandemic that collecting samples from children was challenging, Amy proceeded to design and validate a simple saliva spit test to roll out to schools across Bristol. The antibody test is still contributing to national decision-making for outbreak control and has already been used in more than twenty outbreaks in Bristol.

What made Amy’s work particularly remarkable was that it was conducted shortly after her PhD studies in an unrelated field. She used her initiative to source laboratory space, pre-pandemic saliva samples (from researchers in Portugal) and set up a pop-up clinic in the car park of a local hospital to collect saliva samples. The project secured £1.8 million in funding. 

Amy received her award from Princess Anne at a ceremony held at Windsor Castle ceremony earlier this month.

Dr Thomas said: “WISE is a fantastic organisation that promotes women in science, maths and engineering. It was a great honour to have been recognised and inspiring to learn about the activities of all the award finalists. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to conduct this research in a such a supportive team, and I hope this award inspires others to pursue their ideas.”

Further information

About the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit [HPRU] in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at the University of Bristol 

The NIHR HPRU in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol is one of 14 HPRUs across England, part of a £58.7 million investment by the NIHR to protect the health of the nation. 

The NIHR HPRU in Behavioural Science and Evaluation is a partnership between the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and University of Bristol, in collaboration with MRC Biostatistics Research Unit at the University of Cambridge and University of the West of England. 

Each NIHR HPRU undertakes high quality research that is used by UKHSA to keep the public safe from current and emerging public health threats.

About the NIHR 

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.