Southampton researchers' COVID-19 responses recognised in New Year Honours

MBE award winners 2021_457x220

Professor Keith Godfrey, Dr Katrina Cathie and Dr Nisreen Alwan have all been awarded MBEs in the Queen’s New Year Honours list for 2021 in recognition of their efforts to tackle COVID-19.

Professor Godfrey – established Southampton saliva testing programme

Professor Keith Godfrey’s drive and leadership in piloting effective, regular mass testing for COVID-19 was recognised in the honours, underscoring the importance of Southampton’s testing programme.

That programme pioneered weekly at-home self- sampling for COVID-19 using saliva, rather than uncomfortable and challenging nose and throat swabbing, helping educational isettings in the city identify and manage infections. I also demonstrated the reliability of the RT-LAMP testing technology, cheaper and faster than RT-PCR, and seamless integration of laboratory and NHS data systems to feedback of laboratory test results to participants by text and in national test and trace systems. This work is now focussed on how the approach might be scaled up to a sub-regional level.

April 2020 Keith brought together a unique team to develop a testing  solution that would help ease restrictions. That team included experts in public health, social science, behavioural science, clinical data systems, education and infectious disease molecular biology, plus programme management, communications and legal professionals.

A unique partnership that spanned the Hampshire and Isle of Wight region, the programme was centred on a collaboration between University of Southampton and Southampton City Council. Together they have piloted the approach in employer and educational settings, providing vital learning for the nation that has already been applied in cities and testing approaches across the UK.

“It is a huge honour to be recognised in this way, but this really is a tribute to a truly dedicated team who have worked tirelessly to mitigate the worst effects of the COVID epidemic on the most vulnerable in society,” comments Professor Godfrey , nutrition theme lead for the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, professor of epidemiology and human development and honorary consultant.

“The team has formed a strong partnership between the University of Southampton, the Aspire Community Trust, Southampton City Council, the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Weybridge and the NHS. Working together, we have made enormous progress in developing saliva-based testing to reduce the risk of infection transmission in educational and other settings in Southampton, to give confidence to students, staff, parents and local communities, and to inform national policy and coronavirus control measures elsewhere across the country.”

Dr Nisreen Alwan – weekly testing proposal and Long COVID awareness

Dr Nisreen Alwan’ leading role in a national group of senior public health experts and epidemiologists was the critical spark for the Southampton testing programme. March and April 2020 saw Nisreen and that group producing multiple outputs and open letters to the government on the UK pandemic response, including a proposal for COVID-19 universal weekly testing, that stimulated efforts to find mass testing solutions for controlling the pandemic. 

Nisreen’s MBE for services to medicine and public health during the pandemic recognises both this pivotal role, and also her tireless work on Long COVID. It follows her inclusion in the BBC top 100 Women list in November 2020.

Her persistent scientific and public advocacy has been instrumental in the recognition of Long COVID on a national and international level. Throughout the pandemic, Nisreen has also highlighted the role of social factors like race, gender and class in the pandemic’s impact on individuals and different groups, and the importance of addressing ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities. Her frequent calls for further resources and investigations into the effects of Long COVID have been a prevalent theme of her engagements on social media, mainstream media, webinars and journal articles.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the email notifying me of the MBE,” said Dr Alwan. “I am so honoured and grateful to be nominated and feel a huge responsibility to continue contributing to society in a meaningful way. A big thank you to all those who supported me during this difficult year. Through the work I did, I connected with so many kind, dedicated, and wise people. This gives me hope and energy to always seek positive change”.

Dr Katrina Cathie – for services to paediatrics and the COVID-19 response

At the start of the pandemic, consultant paediatrician Dr Cathie volunteered to leave her research duties to help patients and colleagues in clinical areas. She later helped oversee the COVID vaccine study at University of Southampton in collaboration with University of Oxford, as well as becoming a lead principal investigator for the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine trial.

"I am hugely humbled and honoured to receive this award,” said Dr Cathie. “I am thankful for family, friends and colleagues who support me and I am grateful to work in research and clinical teams with others who go above and beyond on a daily basis and without whom, I wouldn't be able to do my job."

Posted on Friday 8 January 2021