Technology fight against COVID-19 highlights news for week of March 30

Working with doctors, a team from MIT has added a mechanical arm to an Ambu-bag, eliminating the need for a manual operator. The goal: a low-cost emergency ventilator.
Emergency efforts to produce ventilators, such as the one by MIT, are part of the technology community's unprecedented response to battle the coronavirus crisis. (MIT)

While government orders for social distancing and travel restrictions are in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, the development and implementation of technology to produce critical medical supplies is becoming crucial as overcrowded hospitals face shortages of ventilators and masks. In addition, technology is driving efforts to detect the presence of COVID-19 in patients and in biomarkers that could signal the presence of the disease in specific geographic regions.

But more than technology is needed. Making sure the ventilators work properly is important, and so is the presence of a strong supply chain to ensure supplies get to critical locations in a timely manner.

Because ventilators serve a critical patient need, ensuring they work properly is of utmost importance. One company playing a role is National Instruments, which makes automated testing and measurement systems to measure an array of devices. As no two ventilator models are alike, National faces the daunting challenge of testing ventilators with different shapes, features, etc. National is partnering with a number of companies in their testing efforts.

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The urgency of producing ventilators has received a strong response from crowdsourced efforts and universities. Some of the current university efforts involve researchers from MIT, the University of Minnesota, and Vanderbilt University. All are based on advancing the manually bag-operated valve mask, known as a BVM or Ambu-bag.

Advanced technology, such as robots, is also being used to expedite COVID-19 testing. At the University of California at Berkeley, a pop-up diagnostic lab has been set up that uses a liquid handling robot able to process more than 1,000 patient samples daily. The lab is initially handling the UC Berkeley community but could expand its efforts to the greater East Bay area.

Artificial intelligence, not surprisingly, is also getting into the act. Two Dutch companies are providing artificial intelligence (AI) software free of charge to hospitals to help triage COVID-19 cases by highlighting affected lung tissue in chest X-ray images. The software tool, called CAD4COVID, builds on an existing tool certified by the Dutch Ministry of Health called CAD4TB that has been used in more than 40 countries with 6 million people to screen for tuberculosis, according to the joint companies involved, Thirona and Delft Imaging.

Detecting signs of coronavirus before it can spread will be the key to controlling future outbreaks. Researchers from Cranfield University in the UK are using paper-based kits to test wastewater for the presence of biomarkers in urine and feces samples, that could determine if there are carriers for COVID-19 present.

The researchers noted that live SARS-CoV-2 can be isolated from the feces and urine of infected people, and the virus can typically survive for up to several days in an appropriate environment after exiting the human body. 


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