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Can you help take on COVID-19?

By Carolyn Horrocks, Client Relationship Manager, Northumbria University


Three months into lockdown – the peak has passed, and the virus appears to be under control leading to government easing the restrictions on movement and travel. Has this decision come too soon? Will it lead to a second wave? Either way, the fight against the virus is expected to continue for some time yet.


At the time of writing, there are over 270 critical cases of Coronavirus in the UK, with over 900 new cases confirmed within the last 24 hours. Although pleasing to see this dramatic reduction in numbers in recent weeks, they are by no means comfortable ones, and show that innovations within healthcare are absolutely imperative at this time, to not only help combat the virus, but to aid the recovery of those impacted the most.


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 eradicate the spread, 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 struggled to cope with the demand for vital equipment such as Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and ventilators, additive manufacturing offered 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   


Dr. Darren Smith and colleagues 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 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 an existing tele-rehabilitation intervention that Northumbria University researchers currently use in lung transplant recipients at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.  


Want to get involved? 


The nation is relying on businesses to come up with innovative solutions to tackle the range of challenges this current pandemic brings, as well as the resulting foreseen health and wellbeing complications.


The Purposeful Health Growth Accelerator has been set up to help businesses connect with Northumbria University to access research expertise, guidance in product and/or service evaluation and grant funding, as well as providing access to bespoke growth readiness support and possible investment from NEL Fund Managers. The Purposeful Health Growth Accelerator can support businesses currently working within the health, wellness and care sectors, as well as supporting businesses looking to adapt their offering to provide innovative solutions to the challenges of the current pandemic,


For more information on the Purposeful Health Growth Accelerator and to find out how to access this support please visit www.purposefulhealth.co.uk or call Suzanne Smith on 0345 369 7007.


By Carolyn Horrocks, Client Relationship Manager, Northumbria University.



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