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Can you help take on COVID-19?

By Carolyn Horrocks, Client Relationship Manager, Northumbria University

Nearly two months into lockdown, it is becoming increasingly clear that the impact of COVID-19 will continue for many months to come. While some countries have passed the peak of the virus, the fight against is expected to continue for some time yet.

History has taught us, the most impactful innovation takes place when industry and academia work together to create and apply new knowledge, accordingly governments around the world have called on businesses and Universities to support the COVID-19 effort.

The UK Government has re-routed significant funds into rapid response calls for innovation that can help to flatten the curve, protect populations and help us all to deal with the impacts and isolation of COVID-19. At Northumbria University, our academics have been leveraging their expertise to help take on COVID-19 through a range of innovative projects regionally, national and internationally and we are keen to collaborate with more external partners to help make a real difference. Current projects include:  

Taking on testing 

Academics from our department of Applied Sciences have developed a breath collector that could revolutionise COVID-19 diagnosis, confirming whether transmission happens through breath. The device simply collects exhaled breath which can then be tested for the presence of virus. Currently undergoing testing with patients, it is expected to be more reliable than current procedures and could help control COVID-19 transmission. Read more about this research led by Dr Sterghios Moschos here

Taking on manufacturing 

As traditional supply chains struggle to cope with the demand for vital equipment such as Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and ventilators, additive manufacturing is offering rapid delivery of much needed supplies to fill the gap. Some 1,400 companies across the UK have signed up to support the manufacturing of equipment for frontline services, and Northumbria University is also offering its 3-D printing expertise facilities to partners such as the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to help in this effort.  

Taking on transmission   

An assembled team of scientists led by Dr. Darren Smith at  NU-OMICS, Northumbria University’s state of the art DNA sequencing facility, have joined a national consortium backed by the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser. The £20million project, brings together the UK’s expertise in genomics to understand how the COVID-19 virus has spread and evolved during the pandemic. Information which may ultimately help combat the virus.   

The consortium is led by Professor Sharon Peacock, at PHE and Cambridge University, and includes the NHS, public health agencies, the Wellcome Sanger Centre and academic institutions. The consortium will analyse samples from COVID-19 positive patients to understand the genetic code of the virus. Sequencing will take place through a network of centres across the country. In partnership with NHS Trusts, Dr. Smith’s team will act as a hub for sample surveillance and outbreak monitoring for the North of England over the next 12 months. 

The work will allow transmission tracing and monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 genotypes. This will enable decision makers and researchers in hospitals, regional NHS centres and the government to understand chains of viral transmission and inform measures implemented to break them.  

Taking on recovery  

With hundreds of thousands of people around the world expected to experience serious impact on their health from COVID-19, there is a need to support those patients to recover from the virus and return to their day to day lives. Figures from Italy suggest around 50% of patients that have received hospital treatment are bedridden, and therefore need to access rehabilitation treatment at home in order to self-isolate while continuing their recovery. 

Researchers at Northumbria University have teamed up with two other leading Universities, four NHS Trusts across England and Scotland and a specialist COVID-19 rehabilitation institute in Italy to develop a tele-health programme that meets those needs. The project, co-lead by Ioannis Vogiatzis, Professor of Rehabilitation Sciences in Northumbria University’s Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation, aims to repurpose and enhance an existing tele-rehabilitation intervention that Northumbria University researchers currently use in lung transplant recipients at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital. The international team has bid for funding to support the project.  

Want to get involved? 

From the development of rapid sanitisation for ambulances to technology that supports the vulnerable in isolation, there are a range of rapid response calls released on an almost daily basis. If you would like to talk to us about collaborating with our researchers and accessing funding to help defeat COVID-19, please contact us.  

By Carolyn Horrocks, Client Relationship Manager, Northumbria University   

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