Research and Technology Organisations Support the Fight against COVID-19
The ten organising RTOs of The 2nd RTO Innovation Summit have deployed their research, development and innovation powers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. Their vital support actions also aid governments and industry in developing health, safety and economic solutions together amid this disease outbreak.
From the development of coronavirus diagnostic tests and the manufacture of prevention and treatment medications, to providing industry support for small businesses, respirator and personal protective equipment development and traffic tracing, the organising RTOs are operating at full strength to support public health and the European economy.
Each RTO shares an inspiring initiative below in their fight against the coronavirus crisis, further demonstrating the efficacy of applied research and innovation in addressing societal challenges.
Traffic Data Measurement
The government-issued mobility restrictions to combat the coronavirus crisis are working. Researchers at the AIT Center for Mobility Systems documented current changes in the mobility behaviour in Vienna based on data collected from taxi rides. The taxis continuously report their position anonymously, thereby offering insight into the traffic situation.
Since the introduction of movement restrictions, the taxi traffic in Vienna has significantly decreased. This traffic change is especially pronounced in the city centre which, as an otherwise popular destination for guests and nightlife, has lost its gravitational pull. Also traceable is a decline in the number of long-distance passengers, as reported in the media with ÖBB (Austrian railway) train reductions and the Vienna airport shut-down. For example, far fewer people than before are heading in the direction of the main station by taxi.
The data thus shows that the Viennese population and visitors are reactive to the mobility measures and limit their social life.
In its highly secured labs – like the IDMIT (Infectious Diseases Models for Innovative Therapies) dedicated to the study of human pathogens such as AIDS, Zika, Ebola, Chikungunya, flue or Tuberculosis – researchers are studying the physiopathology of the novel coronavirus and are conducting tests to produce quicker diagnosis tools, genetic analyses, innovative therapeutics and future vaccines. In 2014-15, CEA’s teams were able to prove their response capacity, by designing and developing a rapid diagnostic test for Ebola.
Its high performance computing facilities (HPC) dedicated to defense are also made available to biologists for structural modelling of the virus. The data will be shared in public data bases.
Measuring Respirator Components
DTI makes available their knowledge and facilities to save lives in this fight against COVID-19. Examples include a collaboration with two Danish companies where DTI CT-scans and measures components for respirators for the European market. While the development and approval of components for the health sector normally takes months, with COVID-19 it is imperative that the development, production and quality assurance process is streamlined in only a few days. In this case, DTI enables the issuing of measurement reports and full documentation of the components before the courier delivers them at the recipient’s facilities in the Netherlands.
As part of the Danish 3D-printing eco-system, DTI has also put forward its printers should the acute need arise for 3D-printed alternatives to spare parts for hospital equipment which the usual suppliers cannot deliver. DTI can start printing either plastic or metal objects within one-to-two days.
Give a Breath - Challenge
In the face of the coronavirus crisis, Munich Re and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft have launched a challenge to alleviate the consequences for those heavily affected all around the globe. This global call for ideas will identify designs for emergency ventilators and necessary equipment (non-invasive ventilators, O2 concentrator devices or respiratory masks for non-invasive ventilation). The equipment will be used in states of emergency for the decentralised treatment of non-intensive care COVID-19 patients, in order to reduce the demand for hospitalisation.
The selected (reviewed and verified by Fraunhofer) digital blueprints will be provided to governments and states around the world to enable them to start decentralised, large-scale production wherever it is needed the most.
CT-Scan Image AI and Cloud-Based Collaboration
Technological innovation is key to getting through this COVID-19 crisis. Imec collaborates on an initiative for AI-assisted, pattern recognition of CT scans, which holds the promise of reliable testing for COVID-19 infections. This ad hoc initiative for AI-assisted, pattern recognition of CT scans sprung out of the need for fast screening. Initially requested by radiologists, the initiative has been gaining more attention, support and data. ‘Thanks to the collaboration of many parties, CT scans and the associated reports are sent to an AI tool via a cloudplatform’, explains Jef Vandemeulebroucke, professor of medical image analysis at ETRO, an imec research group of Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB), Belgium. ‘The more data (and annotation), the more valuable will be the result’.
RISE Research Institutes of Sweden
Support for SMEs
Crises can pose challenges when markets disappear. But they might as well bring opportunities too; new markets are opening up, time is freed up for competence and product development, and support for business restructuring is available so that it stands stronger after the coronavirus crisis.
RISE has 2800 experts and unique resources for testing and verification, and it supports small and medium-sized companies with, among other things, product adaptation for new markets, environmental tolerance, training and conversion, or financing advice for these types of efforts.
As the largest RTO of Norway, SINTEF and its 2000 employees actively work to find solutions that will strengthen society. During the coronavirus crisis, SINTEF supports Norwegian authorities in providing the equipment they need, including, among other items, thousands of face masks. We are also in dialogue with the Norwegian Hospital Procurement through the Manufacturing Catapult Centre at Raufoss to provide production assistance for the critical components Norway needs in the short and long term.
Ventilators for Intensive Care Units
TECNALIA’s work during the coronavirus crisis relates to the lack of ventilators in hospital Intensive Care Units as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There is a great activity together with a group of clinical staff from various hospitals, companies, members of the scientific-technological world and volunteers (makers). Specifically, TECNALIA supports Spanish manufacturers in increasing their capacity for the manufacturing of ventilators. Its support in particular with Hersill, the Spanish leader in respirators, has produced solutions to increase the short-term manufacturing capacity and solve critical parts supply problems.
Innovative Retailer-to-Consumer Support
To help combat the effects of the coronavirus TNO is deploying its innovative power. The special ‘Brains4corona’ team is coordinating various projects that were set up and launched over the past few weeks.
One of these projects is Pop-Up, Pick-Up and Home Delivery (PUPPY). The number of people going to shops can be structurally reduced using a logistic concept. Consumers place their orders with various local retailers via an online portal. These small retailers prepare the orders and a logistic party picks them up and delivers them to a communal local collection point. This reduces contact moments, and hence the risk of infection, while supporting local businesses, helping vulnerable people, and protecting healthcare workers.
COVID-19 Rapid Test
VTT is developing a rapid test for the coronavirus together with the joint vaccine research center of HUS Helsinki University Hospital and University of Helsinki. The goal of the rapid test is to provide healthcare professionals with an accurate, fast, and resource-efficient method to detect coronavirus infections early.
The rapid testing method is based on the detection of viral antigens in nasopharyngeal samples, and it will make it possible to diagnose COVID-19 at an early stage of the disease. The test is designed to be performed by healthcare personnel – at least in its first phase. The results, however, will be returned significantly faster than with existing tests, within 15 minutes or less. The new test will also be considerably more cost-effective than current testing methods. VTT has also started the antibody development and the first versions of the test are expected this fall.
The work on the rapid test now focuses specifically on COVID-19, but once the rapid testing technology is completed, the same development process could be applied to diagnose other viruses too.