COVID-19 research: better testing capacity, treatments, and vaccine delivery
April 29, 2020
NAVIGATING THE RECOVERY
A special report from:
Dear reader, we realize you won’t find any shortage of news about the coronavirus. Like most in the media business, the writers at Flyover Future are sifting through updates almost constantly on the state of the virus.
It’s easy to get caught up in the panic, and easier to forget that the best researchers in the world are diligently finding the solutions we need to put an end to our latest health puzzle and bring the world back to normal.
RESEARCH AND ROBOTS
Pittsburgh scientists’ patch could replace vaccine shots
Photo: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
As scientists across the globe search for a vaccine to control the spread of COVID-19, some Pittsburgh scientists may have come up with a superior way to deliver it: a patch. The tiny, flexible patch, no larger than a Band-Aid, is actually composed of about 400 micro-needles (sorry, kids), each about the width of a human hair. It’s the brainchild of scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The microneedle array doesn’t hurt or cause bleeding and it delivers its medicine just below the surface of the skin. That provides good delivery of the medicine without hitting any pain receptors or blood vessels. But the patch offers two other major benefits: It can be quickly manufactured, which is critical for coronavirus, since the entire world will need to be immunized. And it is stable at room temperature, which eliminates the need for refrigeration.
The experts at Pitt are exploring the possibility of using 3D printing to rapidly scale up production if the patch is approved by the FDA. For more on this innovative project, check out this article penned by one of the researchers, Dr. Louis Falo.
RedHill demonstrates early success with anti-COVID-19 drug
A pharmaceutical company in Raleigh has been able to demonstrate success fighting COVID-19 in preliminary tests in Italy and Israel. The company, RedHill, makes an anti-viral drug called Opaganib, which has been greenlighted for testing on hospitalized patients. Early signs show patients are recovering and able to leave the ICU.
Opaganib delivers a strong one-two punch of anti-viral and anti-inflammatory medication, which researchers hope will reduce lung inflammation and thereby become a powerful tool in the fight against coronavirus. The initial test will expand to 160 COVID-19 patients in Italy in coming days.
WashU researchers develop tech for rapid SARS-CoV-2 testing
The biosensor is based on an ultrabright fluorescent nanoprobe called plasmonic-fluor that increases the brightness of fluorescent labels used in biosensing and bioimaging.
Professor of mechanical engineering and materials science Srikanth Singamaneni and fellow researchers have received federal funding to further their work. Washington University's Office of Technology Management licensed the technology to Auragent Bioscience LLC, which will aid in development and commercialization of plasmonic-fluors.
A robot that can disinfect COVID-19 exposure areas
Researchers at the University of Louisville have created a robot that will be able to perform tasks and clean in areas where it might be too dangerous for human hospital staff.
The bot, which they call ARNA, has been outfitted with an ultraviolet disinfecting light and sprayable sanitizing agent so it can clean commonly touched surfaces where the virus might live, such as handles, tables and elevator buttons.
“In times like this, where we are battling a highly contagious virus, our health care professionals are at the forefront and are exposed to it,” said Sumit Kumar Das, the J.B. Speed School of Engineering research scientist leading the project. “We hope that our technology will help contribute towards providing solutions to that challenges that our community is facing right now.”
UofL is supporting COVID-19 research with $500,000 in funding, but additional funds are needed to continue the work over time. Donations specifically for the research can be made at give.louisville.edu.
WORKING THE PROBLEM
A new type of data protection
Just a few months ago, a smartphone app that tracks our movements and alerts others of our proximity would have sounded like a privacy nightmare. But in the era of coronavirus, “contact tracing” could be a lifesaver.
The company plans to continue to add data to make the app more helpful in predicting the spread of the virus—and to help stop the spread of misinformation. Planned enhancements include hospital bed numbers, age demographics, numbers of patients with pre-existing conditions, and news reports. All data is in the public domain.
The app, called mContain, is the brainchild of the University’s MD2K Center of Excellence. It uses Bluetooth and location technology to detect “proximity encounters” within six feet of other people who are also using the app. It also displays information about crowding and can notify users about possible exposure to people with COVID-19. A university website displays crowding information on a map of the Greater Memphis metropolitan area.
Small companies in Minnesota join the COVID-19 battle
Many large companies, like Ford, GE, and Microsoft, have made headlines for their help in the fight against coronavirus. But plenty of small companies are pitching in, too. Even as the pandemic has wreaked havoc on small businesses everywhere, many are able to contribute critical personal protective equipment and other supplies during the crisis. The Star Tribune recently highlighted a few Minnesota companies joining the fight.
In St. Paul, Clothier Design Source, a maker of athletic wear, is producing protective medical clothing for hospitals. With FEMA, hospitals, and state governments constantly calling, the company expects sales to top $5 million this year.
In Minnetonka, CBD company Conviva is making hand sanitizer and is developing a surface-spray sanitizer, extra-strength soap, disinfectant wipes, and a disinfectant mouth spray. Noting that robust hygiene will likely last long after the virus fades, the company is exploring the new products as a long-term business.
Imprint Engine, a Minnesota company that specializes in promotions, is now making 20,000 face shields a day. Because of its history of working with manufacturers in China, the company was able to quickly pivot to providing PPE.
All three companies indicated their efforts are yielding both humanitarian benefits and hope for the future of their businesses.
Video series helps work-at-home Iowans stay cyber-safe
The series—called I’m Working from Home. Now what?—is available online once you fill out a form at iowacyberhub.org. Topics range from email security to password authentication, and tip sheets offer additional details and resources.
Doug Jacobson, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of ISU’s Information Assurance Center, created the series.
Oklahoma companies help displaced workers
As hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers in the US are being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, two Oklahoma software companies have found a way to help.
Chris Wright, PhD, president of Reliant, said, “While the restaurant industry has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, many other industries and companies are hiring at record rates. Our two companies want to help workers transition to where the work is."
Madison doctor innovates to protect her staff
Alison Craig is a pediatrician at Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin in Madison—and she’s also chief of staff at the facility. That means it’s her job to oversee dozens of doctors and try to ensure that they don’t get sick on the job. But how do you do that when the coronavirus is spreading and personal protective equipment is in short supply?