Volunteers in challenging days

Proud of the scientific community’s response in these difficult times! tweeted Ignasi, PhD at the Nanobioengineering group a few days ago. As many other IBEC researchers and staff, Ignasi knows these are not ordinary days.

Indeed, these days are not ordinary. IBEC facilities are not busy with people going from one lab to the other carrying their samples or chatting with other institution’s colleagues during a coffee break. In a few days, some IBEC people will return to our labs but not to their usual workplace. As you might know, IBEC, IRB, CRG and CNAG are participating in the ORFEU programme to set up mass testing for citizens to stop the spread of the new coronavirus outbreak.

As requested by the Catalan Government real-time PCR (RT-PCR) are planned to be performed during the next weeks, in order to look for the presence of coronavirus genetic material in patient’s samples. The response to this call was outstanding: researchers, technicians and administration staff, came together at breakneck speed to volunteer their efforts and join this initiative. There are two mass testing sites – one coordinated by the CRG at its labs at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), and another at the Barcelona Science Park (PCB), jointly coordinated by IRB Barcelona, IBEC and the National Centre for Genomic Analysis Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG), part of the CRG.

At IBEC, more than 70 people volunteered to perform the tests, and finally a total of 26 have been selected. Overall, at the PCB facilities, more than 80 people from the three institutions will be participating in this programme. This feature is dedicated to all IBEC people contributing to the ORFEU project but, very especially, to all these volunteers.

Selecting and training volunteers


A Volunteer Coordinating Team was set up in order to analyse the volunteers’ profiles and skills required to perform the tests. This committee was composed of José Antonio del Río, Marija Matejčić, Joan Montero and Carolina Marí, and was in charge of selecting the IBEC people who will participate in the ORFEU programme. For me, participating in a project like the ORFEU is a great and extensive learning experience. Working in the volunteers coordinating committee is especially rewarding because I am witnessing the solidarity of so many of my IBEC colleagues first-hand.”, says Marija Matejčić.

Once the volunteers list was set up, two training sessions took place by the end of April. Volunteers started their training with an online session imparted by the Health and Safety staff, Miriam Funes and Raquel Guillen from IBEC and Ana Vilches and Goretti Mallorquí from IRB, on risk prevention and security protocol. “It’s a great challenge that has been achieved thanks to the collaboration, solidarity and effort of many people at IBEC” says Raquel Guillén, from the Health and Safety Service at IBEC. After that, an on-site training took place at Cluster I at the PCB, imparted by the Experimental Team  in order to get familiar with the facilities and the working protocol. “The programme has given us the possibility to interact with other research centers and this has brought us closer togheter to face this problem and for future challenges. As researchers we had the responsibility to do something“, says Eduard Torrents, coordinator of the Experimental Team.  

Isabel Oliveira, Head of the Core Facilities Unit, one of the representatives of the Technical Coordination Committee at the PCB, is the bridge between IBEC, IRB and CNAG. For instance, she coordinates the logistics and the organisation of the shifts. Isa has been dedicating the 90% of her time to the ORFEU project for the past few weeks “It is a very important challenge that is requiring the effort and dedication of many great people, especially the Experimental Team that is setting up the entire sample analysis process.”, says Oliveira.

The volunteers are ready


Last Monday 27th April a first group of 11 people from all three institutions, 4 from IBEC, the ones with more experience, started with the validation action, to check the entire protocol. These four people will have the role of coordinators together with their colleagues and will be able to train other people and supervise them better. The Experimental Team coordinators at IBEC are Eduard Torrents, Núria Montserrat and Joan Montero, they play a crucial role in this chain, overseeing all the lab processes and handling the sample reception. “Together with the members of the IRB and the CNAG we quickly set up a protocol ready for the analysis of samples. I think that launching a project of this magnitude in such a short time proves that when coordinating leading research centers effectively, great goals can be achieved“, says Joan Montero.

If everything goes according to schedule, IBEC volunteers will start testing samples in the next days. They will work in shifts, depending on the influx of samples. Moreover, there is a data analysis team that will computationally track incoming samples and their numbers, and to analyse the results coming from the RT PCR. At the PCB, this team is composed mostly of CNAG people. Still, from IBEC, Benedetta Bolognesi, Marija Matejčić, volunteers from the SPECS group and other IBEC volunteers are ready to help if needed. In this sense, IBEC has computational volunteers ready to help with data analysis should the need arise.

Júlia Rodríquez, a biologist and postdoc at Javier Ramón’s lab is one of our volunteers, “when IBEC’s directorate proposed us to be part of the Orfeu programme, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer, mainly for social commitment and responsibility reasons. I would like to thank IBEC, who has coordinated, promoted and encouraged participation in this program. The organization has been excellent”, says Julia.  “We are ready to perform as many tests as necessary! concludes Julia”.