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Volunteers in front of the Fire Eye lab

When the country of Serbia called for volunteers to help in COVID-19 diagnostics, Dr. Jelena Martinovic, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Nuclear Science Vinca, University of Belgrade, knew she wanted to help.

Together with 29 other volunteers, of which half were neuroscientists, she assisted the national testing efforts by working at the Institute of Virology, Vaccines and Sera “Torlak”, the national institution for prevention, treatment and monitoring of infectious diseases.

Later she volunteered for another call and worked at the newly-opened “Fire Eye” lab, the brainchild of the Chinese biotech company BGI Group.

Volunteers in PPE in the Fire Eye lab

Although the volunteering scientists didn’t have any previous experience in the diagnosis of human infectious diseases they quickly adapted to their new working conditions.

The volunteers were engaged in RNA isolation and RT-PCR, working together with microbiologists and immunologists from the Faculties of Medicine, Biology, Veterinary Medicine, Agriculture and Institute of Molecular Genetics and Genetic Engineering.

The work was demanding. “We worked in 8-12h shifts,” Jelena says. “Sometimes 24/7, depending on the epidemiological situation.”

When the call for volunteers came, Jelena, mother of two small children, knew without a doubt that she wanted to help. At the time her husband was already working at a hospital that was converted to receive COVID-19 patients, “We already were into that COVID-19 mode.”

Dr. Martinovic at work at the Torlak Institute

“In general,” Jelena says, “I was not afraid as I realize that I am the safest in the lab under full protection. We managed to combine our shifts, and I am really satisfied (although exhausted) as I’ve done something valuable for our society.”