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One of the hardest working ‘quiet achievers’ behind the incredible work at NSW Health Pathology during the COVID-19 pandemic was Dr Linda Hueston. She developed crucial tests to detect antibodies in blood that could determine whether a person has been infected with the COVID-19 virus.
NSW Health Pathology has been described as ‘the quiet achievers during the pandemic, working incredibly hard behind the scenes’.
The statement couldn’t be more true for Dr Linda Hueston, Principal Hospital Scientist and Chief Serologist at NSW Health Pathology’s Westmead laboratory.
When the rest of the country was sweating through the barbeques and backyard cricket games that are synonymous with Australia Day, Dr Hueston spent the long weekend of January 2020 hard at work in her laboratory.
She was working on developing three assays that could tell whether a person had been infected previously with the COVID-19 virus, based on the antibodies present in their blood.
Dr Hueston pioneered the immunofluorescent serology tests used in NSW to detect the specific antibodies the body creates to fight the COVID-19 virus.
A positive serology result indicates the person had been infected at one time, which can tell us if someone was recently infected, even if they had recovered without being tested or were infected without exhibiting any symptoms.
Serology not only confirms recent infection, it can also be used potentially to determine immunity, to determine community spread and find those people who were asymptomatically infected.
Dr Hueston’s team was the first to produce and use the suite of immunofluorescent antibody assays for the diagnosis of COVID-19 and the tests have now been used for thousands of patients.
They have assisted laboratories across Australia and in New Zealand with serologic diagnosis.
“I like puzzles, understanding how things happen and the ‘why’ of things,” said Dr Hueston.
“It is amazing to see the work you do making a positive difference to people and communities you’ll never meet and who will never meet you.
“My science superpower is curiosity and ingenuity.
“By considering what would happen under certain circumstances and letting my mind play with possibilities, I’ve developed assays used to diagnose disease in humans and animals.”
With a strong history of successful test development and its translation into routine diagnostic tests, Dr Hueston was recently awarded funding under the NSW Health COVID-19 Research Grants to develop a suite of new tests that will improve rapid diagnosis of this disease.