COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere for a while. Researchers warn that we may have to start getting used to living with COVID-19 well into 2021 and possibly 2022. A UN report as well as interviews with several university professors and researchers sheds some light onto our situation, and the way out.
Promising leads on vaccines are in the works and making progress. Some institutions and partnered efforts promise a protective vaccine by as early as September. The World Health organization projects that there will be around 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of next year. That is however, a long way away, and still leaves another 4 billion people living with COVID-19 as it rises and spreads.
A UN report measuring the effective response and coping mechanism of each country to the pandemic specifies that we are still in the early stages, and very much at risk.
Countries that are doing pretty well right now like South Korea, China, New Zealand and Taiwan, have been warned that they are still at risk of infection clusters popping up as seen in China a couple of months ago.
This leaves countries at risk of another wave, and a new list of economic disruptions and pitfalls. Despite this, countries need to find a way to cope and keep their economies flowing to some extent until a vaccine is made available, which may need longer than anticipated.
A study conducted by John Hopkins warns that to loosen social safety precautions may correlate with a spike in cases. Increasingly, we are relying on the individual’s assessment of risk and their precautions to determine the severity of the spike. The trouble is, countries will face challenges keeping cases down at this stage.
Researchers and professionals cast a somewhat bleak picture on the near future. Some estimate the death toll to reach up to a million by 2021, while others make even more concerning projections. “We’ll go well over a million,” says Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, Eric Topol. “I wouldn’t be surprised by 2022 if we go into a couple million or more, knowing that there are so many people out there who are vulnerable.”
The reason for this is because COVID-19 is a “stealthy” virus. Asymptomatic transmission comprises up to 30% of total infection cases, and so we are hunting a black cat at night when it comes to finding and isolating infected clusters.
A new approach to the virus is advised. One that requires individuals to take absolute responsibility over the risks and precautions they are taking. People may have to accept living with COVID-19, and the new changes in their life, and everyone needs to contend with the fact that it’s not over yet, and won’t be for a while longer.
New British technology identifies 800,000 high-risk patients from COVID-19
A new technology introduced by the UK has helped clinicians identify 800,000 adults who may be at higher risk from COVID-19 contagion and placed them under high priority to receive the vaccine as part of the country’s vaccination program.
This technology – which was developed by subgroup of NERVTAG, led by the University of Oxford and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – analyses a combination of risk factors based on medical records, to assess whether somebody may be more vulnerable than was previously understood, helping clinicians provide vaccination more quickly to them and ensuring patients can benefit from additional advice and support.
According to a statement published by the British government, the analysis is made possible via new technology and emerging evidence regarding the impact of the disease on different groups and who could be most vulnerable – which means further steps can be taken to protect those most at risk.
“The model’s data-driven approach to medical risk assessment will help the NHS identify further individuals who may be at high-risk patients from COVID-19 due to a combination of personal and health factors,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jenny Harries said.
Harries added that this action ensures those most vulnerable to COVID-19 can benefit from both the protection that vaccines provide, and from enhanced advice, including shielding and support, if they choose it.
Up to 1.7 million patients have been identified. Those within this group who are over 70 will have already been invited for vaccination and 820,000 adults between 19 and 69 years will now be prioritized for a vaccination, the government said in its statement.
The patients identified through the risk assessment will be sent a letter from NHS England in the coming days explaining that their risk factors may help identify them as high clinical risk and that they are included within the support and advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable.
“They will be invited to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible if they have not already had the jab, and will be given advice on precautionary measures, including shielding where this is current advice. Their GPs are also being notified,” the British government’s statement explained.
The research – commissioned by England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and funded by the National Institute of Health Research – found there are several health and personal factors, such as age, ethnicity, and body mass index (BMI), as well as certain medical conditions and treatments, which, when combined, categorizes persons as high-risk patients from COVID-19.
“The independent validation from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) is considered the ‘gold standard’ in quality assurance. The ONS has shown that the model performs in the ‘excellent’ range, and accurately identifies patients at highest risk from COVID-19,” Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive of NHS Digital, which has been using the model, said.
According to the government’s statement, the University of Oxford had turned their research into a risk-prediction model called QCovid, which has been independently validated by the ONS and is thought to be the only COVID-19 risk prediction model in the world to meet the highest standards of evidence and assurance.
“The QCovid model, which has been developed using anonymized data from more than 8 million adults, provides nuanced assessment of risk by taking into account a number of different factors that are cumulatively used to estimate risk, including ethnicity,” Lead researcher Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox, a general practitioner and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and General Practice at University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said.
AI based robotic glove to improve muscle grip and help millions
For the purpose of aiding millions of people with muscles weaknesses or with illnesses, a robotic glove based on AI technology could soon help people recover from such health problems after securing support from the Edinburgh Business School’s (EBS) Incubator, based at Heriot-Watt University.
Motivated to help people having struggles such as his aunt’s with daily tasks like drinking water or changing TV channel after loss of movement caused by multiple sclerosis, led Ross O’Hanlon, 24, to produce the robotic glove.
Four recent engineering graduates, including O’Hanlon, are responsible for BioLiberty, a Scottish start-up, which came up with the robotic glove considered as the first product.
By using Electromyography (EMG) to measure electrical activity in response to a nerve’s stimulation of the muscle, the glove detects a user’s intention to grip. It then employs an algorithm to convert the intention into force, helping the user to hold an item or apply the necessary pressure to complete an activity.
Help with day-to-day tasks
Some of the ways in which this technology is expected to help with day-to-day tasks includes opening jars, driving and pouring a cup of tea.
The main purpose of the new device is to help the 2.5 million people in the UK suffering from hand weakness through illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease and carpal tunnel syndrome – as well those who have lost muscle mass loss due to age.
“Being an engineer, I decided to use technology to tackle these challenges head on, with the aim of helping people like my aunt to retain their autonomy,” Mr. O’Hanlon, from Newry in Northern Ireland, said.
“As well as those affected by illness, the population continues to age and this places increasing pressure on care services. We wanted to support independent living and healthy aging by enabling individuals to live more comfortably in their own homes for longer,” he noted.
The team is working from home in Edinburgh, Belfast and London, due to the pandemic, but plans to return to the Business School once the virus restrictions are lifted.
“We’re confident that support of this type will help accelerate the glove into homes more quickly,” O’Hanlon added.
The team have created a working prototype and secured support from Edinburgh Business School’s Incubator, based at Heriot-Watt University which Mr. O’Hanlon said is a “huge boost.”
There are many gadgets on the market that focus on a specific grip challenge such as tools to help open jars, however this new technology is an all-encompassing solution to support a range of daily tasks.
Such ideas will inspire other entrepreneurs to take the next step, O’Hanlon noted.
Medical 3D printing rises amid COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the healthcare industry into the limelight, as investments from all sorts of industries have been pouring in since last year.
However, one form of investment has been making strides with many in the field: 3D printing and bioprinting.
According to a report by Research and Markets, the global 3D Printing Healthcare Market generated $972.6 million in 2018 and is expected to generate $3.69 billion by 2026, registering a CAGR of 18.2 percent from 2019 to 2027.
Medical 3D printing is being widely used to manufacture medical devices such as prosthetic limbs, orthopedic and dental implants, surgical instruments, precision and personalized pharmaceuticals, and medical education models.
The report highlighted that 3D printing of personalized drugs has the potential to revolutionize the pharmaceutical market; these drugs can be adapted to specific patient requirements, such as age, weight, and comorbidities.
“This ability to print therapies on demand not only has the potential to make medicine personal to patients, but would equally save millions in costs, resources, and waste,” the report explained.
In parallel, 3D bioprinting is used at a more innovative manner by attempting to creating living human cells or tissue for regenerative medicine and engineering. This technology has the potential to fill the gaps in the medical profession such as functional organ replacement, and drug discovery.
According to the report, the growing aging population has driven the demand for donor organs, while regenerative medicine using bioprinters, patient-derived stem cells allow for personalized treatment of certain diseases.
“Use of bioprinted human tissue in drug discovery allows for quicker and more efficient processes, with better outcomes compared to using animal tissue. It also removes the need for animal testing, both in drug and cosmetic development,” Research and Markets noted.
It comes as no surprise that the proliferation of the global pandemic has enormously hampered global healthcare systems, who are in need vital medical equipment and supplies.
Which is why the 3D printing community – from major manufacturers to start-ups and individuals – has taken up the call to support frontline health workers by pledging to support the production of critical medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals tackling the pandemic, Research and Markets said.
An example of this can be seen through a recent partnership made by India-based Apollo Hospitals Group and Anatomiz3D to Hospital 3D-printing labs within the country, for 3D printed implants, that would enable doctors to visualize and print implants for complicated cases.
In a joint statement, both companies highlighted that the labs would provide medical 3D printing services for better healthcare, through creation of anatomical models for pre-surgical planning and education, patient-specific cutting and drilling guides, and customized implants and implant molds.
“3D-printing technology is transforming the medical environment, providing a fast, accurate and economical solution to take medical care to the next level. As healthcare evolves, 3D-printing will play an important part,” said Prathap C Reddy, chairman of Apollo Hospitals Group who along with top executives of the healthcare major and Anatomiz3D, spoke to the media virtually on Wednesday.
The statement highlighted that advances in 3D printing technology today produces customized, lighter, stronger, safer, and higher performing products with reduced lead times and lower costs. “Patient-specific design of implantable devices and surgical tools would help optimize surgical processes and costs,” it added.
Both companies explained that a multi-disciplinary team consisting of biomedical, mechanical and AM engineers as well as 3D designers will work with Apollo Hospitals medical and surgical team in the Hospital 3D-printing labs.
The lab will provide anatomical models that are life-size replicas of a patient’s anatomy, accurately reconstructed from their CT/MRI scans into 3D models, which can be created in multiple materials, colors, opacities, and hardness to provide advanced 3D visualization for pre-surgical planning and patient communication, the statement said.
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