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TSSG researchers apply their ICT expertise to help overcome COVID-19 

By 29th April 2020 No Comments

The global pandemic (Covid-19 or SARS-COV-2) has so far killed thousands of people and continues to threaten many more in the very near future. Daily routines have changed for most of the worlds citizens while economies and stock rates plummet the world over. This unified enemy is like nothing the modern world has seen before and, while the negatives mount, many are taking solace in the positives. One such positive is the outstanding community effort from international researchers.  

As we are sometime away from administering a vaccine, researchers from various disciplines are working at full capacity around the globe to develop novel solutions to diagnose and treat patients suffering from the virus, as well as preventing from spreading it further.   

TSSG are among the broad team of global researchers contributing to the battle against this invisible threat. Their multi-disciplinary research model has the flexibility to re-focus projects with the potential of creating innovative solutions to treatment, prevention and assisting the often-difficult social distancing measures currently in place.  

By applying their extensive expertise in information communications technology (ICT), researchers in TSSG are working together to develop both short as well as long term solutions for COVID-19. By incorporating their experience in molecular and bio-nano communications, sensor technology and blockchain, the team in TSSG along with partners in USA and Finland are working on six possible solutions to various issues. 

Dr. Sasitharan Balasubramaniam, Director of Research in TSSG, praises his team “We are incredibly proud of how fast our researchers have refocused their strategy and joined together in an attempt to contain this virus. Solving these challenges requires rapid responses and creative solutions and we are hopeful that many of our novel concepts will produce promising results.”  

The COVID-19 related projects TSSG researchers are investigating are just the beginning when you consider that studies such as these take years to see results. Many of these initiatives, particularly the research into possible treatments are a long-term effort to overcome not just this virus, but possible illnesses to come.   

TSSG have broken down their COVID-19 related research into two categories: 1) Modeling and Simulation of COVID-19 viral treatments and 2) Integrating COVID-19 technology with society

1) Modeling and Simulation of COVID-19 viral treatments

This virus knows no boundaries. Breathing difficulties and shortness of breath are a key indicator of the illness and fatality rates are high among people with underlying health issues such as asthma. Reducing the long-term effect of a patient diagnosed with COVID-19 is paramount. The number of patients leaving hospital to continue their recovery at home without the need for ventilators or oxygen is ever increasing however researchers have asked the question: What does this mean for the health of the lungs? Does this have a lasting effect? Experts from TSSG, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), USA, and the University of Tampere (UTA), Finland are investigating. 

Treating Lung Tissue Damage due to COVID-19  

(A) Illustrates MSC deposited into the alveoli of the lungs, and (B) illustrates the ultrasound signals emitted to break the polymer casing of the nanodevice.   

Recent analysis of patients suffering from COVID-19 have found that stem cells can be used to repair lung damage as well as control the immune system to suppress cytokine storms (body starts to attack its own cells rather than the virus). Based on this, this specific research is looking at a new delivery mechanism of stem cells encapsulated into a polymer container into the lungs via a ventilator. Once in the right location, the nanoscale devices can be broken down using ultrasound signals emitted externally from outside the body. This will allow precise delivery of the stem cells to the damaged location within the lungs therefore aiding cell and subsequently patient recovery. The nanodevice will remain dormant in the lungs in the event a patient is re-infected.  

Researchers: Bruna Fonseca (TSSG), Dr. Michael Barros (University of Tampere, Finland), Dr. Sasitharan Balasubramaniam (TSSG), Prof. David Borkholder (Rochester Institute of Technology, USA), Dr. Mark White (WIT) and Dr. Lee Coffey (TSSG, PMBRC) 

Molecular Communication modelling of COVID-19 in the Respiratory System  

When the COVID-19 virus enters the respiratory system, it uses the Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2), found in the respiratory system, to bind and enter cells. Once COVID-19 has entered the cell the proteins within the virus will block the innate response of the immune system and replicate before being released into the body. 

Depending on different factors such as the compromised immune systems and underlying health conditions, the severity of the COVID-19 infection could vary from mild to critical. 

      

Molecular communication model of COVID-19 virus propagation in the respiratory system. 

Researchers in TSSG are studying the unpredictability of the virus within the respiratory system to identify the varying levels of infections in patients using an emerging paradigm knows as molecular communications. Molecular communication uses theory from communication engineering and networks to enables us to characterise biological communication processes. In other words, the theory will allow researchers to build a mathematical model to characterise the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the respiratory system. The model created by TSSG primarily characterises the propagation of virus particles through airway tracks and their deposition on the airway surfaces in the respiratory system. This is modelled by considering the flow of air in the upper (e.g., trachea) and lower (e.g., alveoli) regions of the respiratory system, respectively.  This aim of researchers is that this model would give insights to possible treatments for COVID-19 and future life-threatening viruses by designing vaccines depending on the level of infection in different organs.    

Researchers: Dixon Vimalajeewa (TSSG), Prof. Donagh Berry (Teagasc), Dr. Sasitharan Balasubramaniam (TSSG)  

 Clinical Data as a Service platform (CDaaS) 

Overall workflow of the Machine Learning (ML) system in CDaaS 

The global problem of antibiotic resistance is fast becoming one of the major scientific issues of modern times. The development of new antibiotics is slow and difficult work, but bacterial resistance is decreasing our arsenal of existing drugs posing a catastrophic threat as ordinary infections become untreatable. This is a particularly evident in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, there is no efficient and fast technical solution to overcome this phenomenon, rather the diagnosis is based on clinical examination in a doctor’s clinic or in hospital, in addition to some biochemical tests in labs which might take up to a few days to get the results.  

CDaaS uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology to provide infection identification of either bacterial or viral causes, based on samples provided to the CDaaS system by the Point of Care (PoC) givers i.e. GPs or consultants. The CDaaS (Clinical Data as a Service) platform gives GPs, surgeons and third parties access to synthesised diagnostic medical data allowing them to determine an early and accurate infection diagnosis solution.  

The heart of CDaaS is an AI machine learning-based system that provides the critical analysis for submitted biomarker samples, i.e. blood pressure, body temperature, based on multiple indicators within the samples. 

CDaaS focuses on extending the market around lab-on-a-chip devices while enabling the creation of a mobile application that can assist medical doctors in assessing the nature of infections in the GP practice or hospital setting. This will be imperative to the rate of diagnosing patients with COVID-19 thus reducing the spread of the virus. 

For more information on the project visit https://www.tssg.org/projects/cdaas/ 

Researchers: Martin Tolan (TSSG), Yahya Almardeny (TSSG), Peter Scanlon (TSSG) Frances Cleary (TSSG). 

2) Integrating COVID-19 technology with society 

Technology has played a critical role in the society of today as many people transition to remote working, remote schooling, remote shopping and remote socialising. While people have quickly adapted to this new way of life with little hesitation there is growing uncertainty of when society will return to ‘normal’. TSSG researchers have asked the questions: What is the new normal? Can technology play a role in ‘living’ with the virus? To answer these questions, they have applied their diverse expertise in an attempt to answer what is currently perceived as unanswerable; when can we visit family and friends again? 

Contact Quotas to prevent COVID-19  

 

Maintaining contact quotas to prevent spreading of COVID-19.  

Social-distancing is the term of 2020 and is the current advise enforced on almost every global citizen prevent the spread of COVID-19. This measure will only slow the spread of the virus as it is likely we will be living with it for the foreseeable future. The advice is to stay 2metres apart from anyone outside of your household or, if necessary, only talk to someone for 15minutes to help reduce the spread. However, if you speak to someone on the street for 5 minutes you still can spread the virus just the chances of it are lower.  

Researchers has asked the question; how much personal contact can one have a day and not get infected? The simple answer is 0 or close to it which is the number the current government restrictions strives to achieve. Any number above 0 implies a certain level of risk for the individual to spread the disease. Many people use quotas to track calorie intake and weight-loss which is the approach TSSG and the American International University-Bangladesh have taken to help people understand and monitor their contact quota.   

So, how hard is it estimate the social quota and can HSE do it? In short, very. As shown in the figure above, a possible solution will incorporate a number of components. In order for the HSE to obtain the data they need to appropriate a suitable quota. To identify this quota every member of the public would be encouraged to share their contact history anonymously and safely. In other words, the HSE will know how many people one citizen has been in contact with and names and personal information is unnecessary therefore privacy is ensured. This data can then be applied to one of the epidemiological (control of infection diseases) platforms to evaluate the possible impact of various quotas and calculate the risk of further spread of COVID-19. Based on the risk values, the HSE will then be able to select the lowest quota figure and communicate it to the public via various platforms including the Contact Tracing App. 

Researchers: Dr. Stepan Ivanov (TSSG), Sirajum Munir Fahim (American International University-Bangladesh) 

Safe-To-Work: Blockchain-based Certification of Compliance with Public Health Policies  

Block-chain Safe-to-Work certification for people returning to work. 

While the current stay-at-home policy helps to suppress the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the impact of the policy is anticipated to be both significant and long-lasting. Before the peak of the pandemic, a blanket stay-at-home solution is justifiable, but the policy needs to change when Ireland enters the maintenance phase.   

To mitigate the risk of a second wave of the pandemic, the return of workers will need to be carried out gradually and controlled by the Public Health Authorities. The returning workers will be required to adhere to social distancing which is difficult to police. The compliance can be monitored via various social distancing apps coupled with the use of advanced data analytics and mathematical modelling. However, none of the apps currently available provide a mechanism for the authorities to: (1) enable safe return of workers, and (2) encourage compliance with social distancing by the returning individuals. 

 This project aims to develop a Blockchain Safe-to-Work certification solution to help the authorities perform both tasks. An individual may be issued a Safe-To-Work certificate confirming the safety of their temporary return. The certificate will be issued on the basis of their recent contact history and their compliance with distancing advice from Public Health Authorities. If there is evidence of recovery from the virus, a certificate may be issued by a qualified medical practitioner after certain tests have been done. The certificates will enable an organisation to make a judgment on whether the individual can return to their place of work.  

Researchers: Dr. Stepan Ivanov (TSSG), Dr. Brendan Jennings (TSSG), Miguel Ponce de Leon (TSSG), Dr. Bernard Butler (TSSG), Dr. Steven Davy (TSSG).  

Ensuring social distancing through wearable technology

  

 

Wearable electronic device to monitor social distancing. 

Researchers are working towards an inconspicuous wearable solution to track and assess the social distancing measures by raising awareness of how people implement these guidelines within their community and work environments. TSSG is actively developing a new and innovative wearable device that can help citizens to monitor the effectiveness of their social distancing efforts and to be more informed on their practice of social distancing in real time. This wearable device solution has the potential to greatly impact and provide benefits for multiple user groups such as   

  • Manufacturing / industry organisations: The device will help the workforce and health and safety teamto monitor employee adoption of social distancing best practice and identify the need for additional measure to be implemented/ 
  • Services such as hospitality and retail: The device will be capable of monitoring the behaviour of their staff and stimulate compliance amongst the customers.  
  • Healthcare facilities such as care homes, hospitals, GP practices: The device will support routine social distance compliance monitoring as well as helping visitors to maintain a safe distance from vulnerable individuals in such environments. 
  • Everyday citizen engagement (adults, kids, elderly): The device will provide these groups the opportunity to gain an insight and a higher level of awareness around their social distancing practices and areas for improvement.  

Researchers: Yahya Almardeny (TSSG), Frances Cleary (TSSG), Dr. Stepan Ivanov (TSSG), Dr. Brendan Jennings (TSSG), Dr. Sasitharan Balasubramaniam (TSSG). 

Have a Listen to some of our Researchers leading these projects speak about them on the Machine podcast – Click Here

 For media queries contact Deirdre O’Gorman, TSSG Marketing & Communications Officer.