All eyes on COVID-19: How universities curb the pandemic
In a matter of months, the 2019 novel coronavirus or COVID-19 has risen to a pandemic state. With the number of infections rising exponentially across the globe, as of 18 March 2020 the World Health Organization has reported a total of 191 127 confirmed cases of the virus with 7,807 deaths worldwide.
This has raised the urgency for the public, private, and governmental sector to actively search for ways to detect, contain, and treat the virus before it causes further damage towards the general population, economy and daily life.
University and research communities now play a bigger role and hold a higher degree of responsibility to utilise their expertise and facilities to develop ways to mitigate the outbreak.
However, working on individual and isolated projects can only make a significant change to the situation to a certain extent.
In a World Economic Forum report, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology President Wei Shyy expressed the need for universities to make use of the extensive international research networks and alliances to work on collaborative research together.
“The coronavirus knows no boundaries. We need to count on our substantial network and culture of sharing among universities and dedicate our expertise, knowledge and facilities to support our common goal of curtailing Covid-19,” He said.
“By upholding our core values of being proactive in the search of new knowledge, being innovative in coming up with new solutions and perseverance despite setbacks and obstacles, we can tackle this global challenge together.”
Nevertheless, universities are making a great deal of progress in dealing with the global pandemic. Aside from performing various vaccine trials, research universities and organisations are also looking into how to test for the virus more efficiently and how to cope with the treatment of those who are already infected.
More efficient testing
Scientists from the University of Oxford’s Engineering Science Department in collaboration with the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) have developed a new rapid testing technology that can deliver results in just half an hour, three times faster than current testing methods.
The university has collaborated with the Shenzen Luohou People’s Hospital in China to validate this new technology by testing it on 16 clinic samples, including eight positive and eight negative cases. The test results using these new rapid detection kits were all successful.
The research team is now looking to run clinical validations within the UK and to explore options for the production of these kits. The scientists are currently working to develop an integrated device so the test can be used at clinics, airports or at home.
Digitising Virus Contact Tracing
In a separate study, a team of scientists from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute has provided European and UK governments with a more viable solution to upgrade current contact tracing methods that are being used now to track the outbreak.
The Oxford University team have suggested the implementation of a mobile app that can identify infected patients and their recent person-to-person contacts.
“Coronavirus is unlike previous epidemics and requires multiple inter-dependent containment strategies. Our analysis suggests that almost half of coronavirus transmissions occur in the very early phase of infection, before symptoms appear, so we need a fast and effective mobile app for alerting people who have been exposed. Our mathematical modelling suggests that traditional public health contact tracing methods are too slow to keep up with this virus,” said Oxford University’s Big Data Institute scientist Professor Christophe Fraser who also works for the Nuffield Department of Medicine.
“The instant mobile app concept is very simple. If you are diagnosed with coronavirus, the people you’ve recently come into contact with will be messaged advising them to isolate. If this mobile app is developed and deployed rapidly, and enough people opt-in to use such an approach, we can slow the spread of coronavirus and mitigate against devastating human, economic and social impacts,” he added.
The scientists suggest that that the mobile app need not be used by every individual citizen, however, it would prove to be significantly more useful to help patients self-isolate and identify those who need to be tested immediately.
There is great potential for this initiative to expand with more collaboration to develop and distribute this mobile app to the general public as it could curb the rising numbers of cases across Europe.