COVID-19: Flyover Country responds with promising research and ingenuity
“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmares because of my dreams." - Dr. Jonas Salk
APRIL 9, 2020
LAYOVER IN PITTSBURGH
During the pandemic, Pittsburgh is doing what it does best
Photo by JHVEPhoto for Shutterstock
As we’ve been reporting over these last few weeks, Flyover Country is doing some incredible things during the coronavirus crisis. Pittsburgh is no exception.
With the medical track record of the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, no one should be surprised that the city’s scientific and medical communities are innovating life-saving treatments during the coronavirus pandemic.
Researchers are busy thinking outside the box during this unprecedented moment. And it’s not its first rodeo with a deadly virus. Dr. Jonas Salk was at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine when he developed the polio vaccine.
The Pitt Center for Vaccine Research was one of just a handful of academic institutions to receive funding to develop a vaccine. Early in the fight, the Center was chosen to receive vials of the live virus in order to create test kits.
“There are virologists all around the world who have been trained for this moment,” CVR director and Jonas Salk Chair for Vaccine Research Paul Duprex, Ph.D., said at the time. “We have colleagues in many parts of the world who collaborate and work with us to share information and share knowledge because this is important.”
Another research team at the school of medicine was the first to introduce a peer-reviewed vaccine candidate. The authors of the study call it PittCoVacc (short for Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine) The researchers developed a novel approach for delivering the drug, called a microneedle array, to increase potency. The array is a fingertip-sized patch of 400 tiny needles that delivers the spike protein pieces into the skin, where the immune reaction is strongest.
“Our ability to rapidly develop this vaccine was a result of scientists with expertise in diverse areas of research working together with a common goal,” said co-senior author Louis Falo, professor and chair of dermatology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC.
The Pitt Clinical and Translational Science Institute jumped into action by offering $50,000 pilot project grants for Pitt researchers working on COVID-19-related therapies and mitigation methods. The Center for Medical Innovation is offering a similar grant program.
When it became clear that the crisis would cause a painful economic disruption, Pitt's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence responded with a web page to provide the most up to date information and resources for regional small businesses.
Epistemix, a Pitt spinout startup that has created a disease progression analytics platform to help governments and health insurers optimize their decision making, is currently being bombarded with requests.
Carnegie Mellon University is conducting a research project with Facebook’s Data for Good program in which they will survey U.S. users about their health. The project is aimed at gathering “heat maps” of self-reported coronavirus infections. The researchers say the information gathered will help them predict where medical resources are needed.
The extraordinary work that the medical and research community is doing in Pittsburgh is growing. We’ll keep you updated.
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FLYOVER RESEARCH: GROUNDING COVID-19
UofL researchers work with area hospitals to supply COVID-19 information
Because the COVID-19 virus is new and wholly unique, medical personnel and researchers have an uphill battle to understand it, including how the virus is spread, who becomes ill, and how the illness progresses.
This information is needed not only to protect the community, but to protect healthcare workers from becoming ill.
Infectious disease researchers at the University of Louisville are working with 10 Louisville hospitals and two southern Indiana hospitals to process tests and study the illness.
Julio Ramirez, MD, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, and Ruth Carrico, PhD, RN, professor in the division, along with Donghoon Chung, PhD, and Kenneth Palmer, PhD, director of the Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CPM), have developed a surveillance program to track the prevalence of the illness and which patients are most affected.
“With the information we are gathering, we will better understand how transmission occurs. When we understand how transmission occurs, that provides us the tools we need to develop some effective interventions,” Carrico said.
Chung has established and refined procedures for high-throughput testing of more than 350 clinical sample per day.
The university is supporting this research with $500,000 in funding, but additional funds are needed to continue the research over time. Donations specifically for this research can be made online here.
University of Minnesota creates ventilators smaller than a cereal box
As devastating as it is, COVID-19 is inspiring technical achievement across the country.
One possible technical breakthrough comes from the University of Minnesota, where Dr. Stephen Richardson, a cardiac anesthesia fellow, and Jim McGurran, a med-tech engineer, have developed a ventilator that is smaller than a cereal box and doesn’t require pressurized oxygen.
In an effort to share their breakthrough during the current crisis, the university’s Medical Devices Center has posted the design online for free to help other countries implement the device. U of M is also working on drug treatments for COVID-19.
ON THE RADAR
Who won the bracket in Cincinnati's Tech Madness tournament?
At this time of the year, we’d normally be crowning the NCAA collegiate national basketball champions. But COVID-19 had other plans.
So instead, Cincinnati Inno readers cast almost 3,700 votes to select a winner in their annual Tech Madness Tournament. The competition was started with a bracket of 32 teams with one question: Which startups would you invest in?
The Tech Madness tournament created an interesting competition that highlighted innovative technology companies which are part of Cincinnati’s fast-growing startup space.
The Cincinnati marketing startup received 259 votes in the final round, beating ConnXus, which had 161. Navistone and ConnXus entered Tech Madness as the No. 6 seed and No. 2 seed, respectively. Navistone beat out companies in industries ranging from agriculture to funeral home management.
Founded in 2016, Navistone, invented a progressive technology that models the browsing behavior of prospects and customers to determine who might be interested in making a purchase. It was a finalist for the Cincinnati Business Courier’s Innovation & Technology awards in both 2018 and 2019.
Grand Rapids engineers recognized for energy-saving projects
Two engineers at Grand Rapids-based architecture firm TowerPinkster took home prestigious honors at The Technology Awards, given to members of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) who implement innovative design concepts that improve indoor air quality, reduce energy consumption, and add to overall occupant comfort in public and commercial spaces.
Ryan Idema, PE, and Jesse Hendershot, PE, were recognized at both the regional and national level for expansions and renovations they oversaw at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.
Their designs included ducting fresh air from the airport's green roof, adding active carbon filtration in the airport's outdoor air energy recovery unit, and installing an adaptable heating and cooling system that operates with no downtime, reducing the amount of time and energy needed to achieve and maintain consistent thermal comfort.
The TowerPinkster team won first place at the regional level and an honorable mention at the national level in the new commercial build category.
phData ranked #1 by Inc. Magazine
A Minneapolis-based company has landed in the top spot of Inc. Magazine’s 250 “Most Successful Companies in the Midwest.” The company, phData, specializes in IT management and artificial intelligence. It reported revenue growth of 5,638% between 2016 and 2018.
Its specialty is in helping companies and organizations that have massive data sets but lack the expertise to build their own machine learning platforms. One example is the National Marrow Donor Program, which has 42 million pieces of DNA data on its donors. phData’s AI solutions drastically reduced the time required to make a match.
Pittsburgh startup uses AI to optimize recycling routes
A Pittsburgh recycling startup that uses machine learning and AI to help organizations improve their recycling has raised $28 million in Series C funding.
RoadRunner Recycling will use the money to double its staff and expand into new markets. Its customers are schools, businesses, and factories that want to improve recycling and save money.
A typical school’s waste stream is 66% food waste, for example, while a shopping mall’s waste is mainly cardboard and paper. RoadRunner customizes a recycling plan for each customer, including the most efficient route to haul its recyclables.
RoadRunner currently operates in 10 cities and plans to roll out to 10 more this year, including Phoenix, Austin, and San Diego. The new funding round raises the company’s total to $44 million.
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