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New technology may allow COVID-19 testing with a smartphone

Adnan Kayyali

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COVID-19 testing with a smartphone

It has been widely accepted that more rapid and decentralized testing is the best way to maintain societal function while keeping the wider community safe.

According to a study published in the scientific journal Cell, researchers from Gladstone Institutes, UC Berkeley, and UCSF detailed their new CRISPR-based COVID-19 testing technology which can be used for rapid COVID-19 testing with a smartphone camera, delivering results in under 30 minutes.

In short, a sample is mixed with CRISPR Cas13 proteins, and molecular probes. When COVID-19 RNA is detected within the sample, the proteins cut the molecular probes, which then release a fluorescent glow visible to smartphones.

“It has been an urgent task for the scientific community to not only increase testing, but also to provide new testing options,” says Melanie Ott, MD, PhD, director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and one of the leaders of the study.

“The assay we developed could provide rapid, low-cost testing to help control the spread of COVID-19,” she continued.

Traditional PCR tests use a two-step approach to testing, that being, taking the samples, conversion, and the amplification step. The second step makes it possible to detect the Coronavirus DNA from an RNA sample, converting the RNA to DNA. Amplification makes the virus detectable.

These processes, of course, require specialists and a lab fitted with all necessary equipment. Enabling COVID-19 testing with a smartphone puts the user in control, skipping the second and third steps that burden the healthcare system with centralized labs and the need for trained professionals.

“We chose to use smartphones as the basis for our detection device since they have intuitive user interfaces and highly sensitive cameras that we can use to detect fluorescence,” explains Daniel Fletcher, bioengineer at UC Berkeley, PhD, adding that, “smartphones are also mass-produced and cost-effective, demonstrating that specialized lab instruments aren’t necessary for this assay.”

Using their gene-editing technology, CRISPR coupled with advances in smartphone technology may enable rapid, decentralized and accurate COVID-19 testing with a smartphone, handing regular people the tools they need to keep themselves and those around them safe.

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MedTech

Wearable tech start-up aims to tackle head injuries in sport

Karim Hussami

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Wearable tech start-up

An Edinburgh-based business recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help move into production of a technology to safeguard athletes against head injuries.

Based at the Edinburgh Business School (EBS) Incubator within Heriot-Watt University, the technology has been developed by start-up company HIT. The concept is wearable tech which measures and tracks head impact force in sport and recreational activities and is set to aid research and support informed decisions on the risk of brain injury.

Founder Euan Bowen, an avid rugby player, was inspired to develop the technology a teammate was injured. With brain injuries rarely reported, Bowen spotted a gap in the market for sportspeople to track brain health.

Bowen explained: “I found little technology available to monitor head impact, despite the severity of the issue across different sports.

“As a member of a rugby club in Edinburgh, I began researching and developing a project, working closely with the team to develop an initial prototype.”

Featuring a unique impact sensor, wearable across multiple sporting and activity applications, the device universally clips onto any helmet or halo headband, detecting g-force and recording impact via a companion app.

Using a traffic light system, the app records data and acts as an early warning notification for the user regarding the level of impact force recorded – highlighting the caution required in continued exercise.

“High impact sports are focusing increasingly on concussion mitigation with the Field – ‘Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk’ – study recently finding that former professionals are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than the general population,” Bowen noted.

Kallum Russell, manager of the EBS Incubator said: “HIT Impact is a much-needed technology to track and support the current efforts to increase sports safety at a time when governing bodies across high impact sports are increasingly focused on minimizing head trauma.”

The current parliamentary inquiry into concussion recently heard evidence about the long-term implications of repetitive head trauma on sports people with MPs asking how sports could be made safer.

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MedTech

Official: EU agency to confirm AstraZeneca blood clot link

Associated Press

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AstraZeneca blood clot

A top official at the European Medicines Agency says there’s a causal link between AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots, but that it’s unclear what the connection is and that the benefits of taking the shot still outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19.

Marco Cavaleri, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based agency, told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper on Tuesday that the European Union’s medicines regulator is preparing to make a more definitive statement on the topic this week.

Asked about Cavaleri’s comments, the EMA press office said its evaluation “has not yet reached a conclusion and the review is currently ongoing.” It said it planned a press conference as soon as the review is finalized, possibly Wednesday or Thursday.

Based on the evidence so far, Cavaleri said there’s a clear association between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the dozens of rare blood clots that have been reported worldwide amid the tens of millions of AstraZeneca shots that have been given out.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to affirm that there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship between AstraZeneca vaccines and the very rare cases of blood clots associated with a low level of platelets,” Cavaleri was quoted as saying.

AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Late in the day, however, the pharmaceutical company and Oxford University, which developed the vaccine, announced they were pausing the trial of their jabs in children while British regulators investigate the potential blood clot link in adults.

“Whilst there are no safety concerns in the pediatric clinical trial, we await additional information” from the British regulator, an Oxford spokesperson said in a statement.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization said its experts were also evaluating a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots — and that it might have a “fresh, conclusive assessment” before Thursday.

In March, more than a dozen countries, including Germany, suspended using AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most EU nations restarted on March 19 — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks of not inoculating people against COVID-19. At the time, the EMA recommended the vaccine’s leaflet be updated with information about the rare clots.

Any further doubts about the AstraZeneca vaccine would be a setback for the shot, which is critical to Europe’s immunization campaign and a linchpin in the global strategy to get vaccines to poorer countries. The AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and easier to use than rival vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and has been endorsed for use in over 50 countries, including by the 27-nation EU and the World Health Organization. U.S. authorities are still evaluating the vaccine.

Cavaleri said while EMA was prepared to declare a link, further study was still needed to understand why and how the phenomenon occurs.

He said the rare blood clots, including some in the brain, coupled with a low level of blood platelets that may make people at risk of serious bleeding, “seem to be the key event to study further.” Cavaleri promised more details soon, adding: “In the coming hours, we will say that the link is there, how this happens we still haven’t figured out.”

Cavaleri said the biological mechanism for how the vaccine might be causing the rare clots was still unknown and if it was linked to how the shot is made, other vaccines with similar technologies might also need to be evaluated.

He stressed the risk-benefit analysis remained positive for the AstraZeneca jab, even for young women who appear to be more affected by the clots.

“Let’s not forget that young women also end up in intensive care with COVID. So we need to do very meticulous work to understand if the risk-benefit analysis remains for all ages,” he was quoted as saying.

He ruled out a preventive therapy to address the rare blood clots, saying there is still too much unknown about the phenomenon.

Even after the March 19 restart, the Dutch and German governments suspended the jabs for people under 60 and some Europeans have been shying away from getting a shot.

Romania’s national vaccination committee’s chief, Valeriu Gheorghita, said Tuesday that since March, 207,000 people in Romania had canceled their AstraZeneca vaccine appointments and another 92,000 simply didn’t show up.

“It is a high percentage, a third of people scheduled who did not show up,” Gheorghita told reporters.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to be drawn directly into the latest warnings about the vaccine but urged people to look at the advice from Britain’s independent Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency.

“Their advice to people is to keep going out there, get your jab, get your second jab,” he said during a visit Tuesday to an AstraZeneca facility in Macclesfield, in northwest England.

Last week, Britain’s MHRA said seven people had died in the U.K. due to blood clots after getting the AstraZeneca jab. It said it wasn’t clear if the shots are causing the clot and that it was undertaking a “rigorous review” into the reports. The agency said it had identified 30 blood clot cases out of 18.1 million AstraZeneca jabs given by March 24.

Adam Finn, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol, said the latest surge of COVID-19 cases that is filling up hospitals across Europe should prompt people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“If you are currently being offered a dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, your chances of remaining alive and well will go up if you take the vaccine and will go down if you don’t,” he said.


ROME (AP) — By NICOLE WINFIELD and PAN PYLAS

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MedTech

AUB starts U.S.-based company for research on cardiovascular disease

Inside Telecom Staff

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cardiovascular disease

In a MedTech first for the Mediterranean country of Lebanon, a team from the American University of Beirut (AUB) has established a biotech corporation in the U.S. devoted research on biomarkers for cardiovascular disease.

The school told Inside Telecom that team physicians and scientists from AUB have founded the first US-based biotech S-Corporation, Teucer Biotech Inc., centered on an AUB-generated original invention.

Teucer Biotech Inc. is founded around U.S. Patent 10,801,066 issued for the “Determination of risk for development of cardiovascular disease by measuring urinary levels of podocin and nephrin messenger RNA,” with patent positions also issued in Canada, Europe, and Australia.

“We believe we have uncovered a novel clinical biomarker which predicts the development of adverse cardiovascular outcomes (hypertension, acute coronary syndrome, stroke, dementia, peripheral vascular disease, and others) much earlier and with substantially greater prediction power than the earlier currently employed risk predictor, namely “moderate albuminuria (increase albumin in urine),” said Dr. Kamal Badr, AUB professor of internal medicine.

An S-Corporation is akin to a limited liability company or partnership. In general, the corporation itself does not pay any income tax but rather any gain or losses are divided among the partners or shareholders who are then responsible for payment as an individual income tax.

Along with AUB, the company is owned by co-founders Kamal Badr; Assaad Eid, associate professor of anatomy and molecular medicine; Robert Habib, former AUB faculty member and current director of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons Research Center, Chicago, IL, USA; and Joao Lima, professor of cardiology, radiology, and epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University.

Additionally, Dr. Yousif Asfour, chief innovation and transformation officer, represents AUB on Teucer’s Board of Directors, which is chaired by Professor Badr.

“We contend that our findings, once validated across large populations and disease states, will significantly reduce the global burden of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the world, by providing a more robust and reliable indicator for pre-clinical systemic vascular injury many years prior to overt cardiovascular events, thereby triggering much earlier behavioral and pharmacological interventions,” added Dr. Badr.

On March 31, 2021, Drs. Kamal Badr, Assaad Eid, and Yousif Asfour presented AUB President Fadlo Khuri with the stock certificate representing AUB’s part ownership of Teucer Biotech Inc.

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