TestEd project awarded £1.8m grant to help tackle COVID-19 transmission

University collaborative TestEd project seeks to establish methods to detect SARS-CoV-2 in asymptomatic carriers in the University's staff and student populations.

When Professor Neil Turok accepted the Higgs Chair at the University of Edinburgh, he did not expect to be working in microbiology. However, the urgency of tackling COVID-19 has sparked many unusual collaborations.

When he arrived in Edinburgh in September 2020, Professor Turok collaborated with biologists at the Institute of Genetics and Cancer (IGC) to formulate TestEd: a high-accuracy, low-cost, user-friendly system for detecting COVID-19.

What is TestEd?

One of the reasons that the pandemic has been difficult to control is that up to 50% of cases of COVID-19 infection are asymptomatic, and that a similar proportion of COVID-19 transmissions can derive from asymptomatic carriers.  Current testing for COVID-19 is aimed primarily at symptomatic individuals, so asymptomatic cases are not detected and pre-symptomatic cases cannot be detected until symptoms have developed.

Large-scale screening of at risk populations for carriage of SARS-CoV-2, the causative COVID-19 virus, can, in theory, identify pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers, enabling control measures to prevent or minimise the risk of transmission from such carriers. However, in practice, current methods are either too labour intensive or too costly for large-scale testing.

The TestEd project seeks to develop and establish accurate and cost-effective methods to test for and detect SARS-CoV-2 in the saliva of asymptomatic carriers of the virus in the University's staff and student populations.


Supported with seed funding from the University, TestEd has now been awarded a £1.8mUK Research Innovation (UKRI) grant to expand and rigorously prove its system by making twice weekly testing available to all students and staff at Edinburgh.

The overall aim is to minimise infection and transmission of infection within the University's staff and student population. 

Hypercube algorithm

This is not the first project relating to COVID-19 which Professor Turok has been involved with. During the first UK lockdown, Neil helped to develop an algorithm for pooled testing based on higher-dimensional hypercubes.