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18January 2021

New Covid Antibody Test Gets Results in 10 Seconds Using 3D Printing

In the ongoing global efforts to contain the Covid-19 virus, the ability to conduct rapid mass testing is proving critical to success. It is also an area where many countries are facing major challenges. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have just developed a test that may help overcome this challenge.

Created by a joint team of engineers and virologists, the test enables Covid antibodies, the blood-borne protein that attacks the coronavirus, to be detected in 10 seconds. The presence of these antibodies in a person’s blood indicates that they were previously infected by the virus. Pinpointing who within a population has Covid antibodies helps track the virus’ progress, including by identifying who may have developed immunity.

Micro 3D printing technology lies at the heart of this research innovation. Dr. Rahul Panat, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, whose group developed the test, explained:

“Micro 3D printing allows you to produce new shapes in devices and new combinations of materials. The progress we are making today in biomedical devices is inherently tied to the progress in microfabrication.”

The device is made using trademarked Aerosol Jet 3D electronics printers developed and patented by Optomec, a U.S.-based company specializing in additive manufacturing technology. About the size of a U.S. quarter coin, the device is formed by printing gold micropillars onto a substrate, coating them with reduced graphene oxide, then attaching Covid antigens, the markers of the virus. A pinprick of blood is obtained from the person being tested, and if the sample has any Covid antibodies they latch on to the antigen, creating an electrochemical reaction.

Unlike other manufacturing processes that create a smooth surface finish, the Optomec aerosol jet printer produces a rough surface on the gold micropillars. This trademark ‘stickiness’ allows the antigen to easily load onto the micropillar resulting in it being able to detect even very small amounts of antibodies. A single device costs in the range of tens of dollars to make.

Like a Home Glucose Test

The device gets connected to a dongle that has a small electrochemical analyzer, which confirms the presence of antibodies. The dongle connects to a smartphone that reads the result on a custom app. Both interfaces—the dongle and smartphone app—are already widely available on the market. One advantage of choosing such interfaces, according to Dr. Panat, is that:

“It lowers the technical expertise needed to take a reading. It can be like a glucose test you do at home.”

After a test is performed, the device gets washed with formic acid and another test can be done in a minute. While at least 10 tests can be done with complete accuracy, the detection capability weakens after that and the device needs to be replaced. The research team published its preliminary data in September, with larger-scale trials underway at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

With parts of the world getting battered by a new wave of Covid infections and a vaccine very likely still months away, testing is set to remain an indispensable part of nations’ Covid mitigation strategies. For example, when China, which had been doing very well at containing Covid-19 over the summer, experienced an outbreak in October in the eastern city of Qingdao, it managed to stave off a resurgence by testing all of Qingdao’s 10 million residents in a few days. Dr. Panat said:

“Rapid mass testing can help us eradicate the virus by effectively isolating patients. If a test takes 24 or 48 hours to get results—or even 20 minutes—that is simply too long.”

5August 2020

Researchers develop tent to prevent spread of SARS-CoV-2 in dental settings

SINGAPORE: With the aim of preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a portable tent-like shield for use during dental procedures. Named the Dental Droplet and Aerosol Reducing Tent—the Dental DART—the foldable transparent structure is placed around the patient’s head in order to create a barrier that reduces direct and indirect exposure to viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.

The Dental DART was developed specifically for dental procedures and is based on the initial DART device that was developed in 2020 by NUS researchers in order to protect healthcare workers during the pandemic. In an NUS press release, the lead researcher on the project, Prof. Freddy Boey, deputy president for innovation and enterprise at the university, said: “The Dental DART is a design evolution, and has been prepared to protect dentists and their patients from potential infectious agents present in the aerosols that are generated during dental procedures.”

The Dental DART has an adjustable width of between 60 cm and 70 cm so that it can be used on dental chairs of different sizes. The device has no underside, which permits air to enter it, and it features three access points so that dentists and nurses can reach into it in order to perform dental procedures. The device attaches to the vacuum pump installed on the dental chair so that potentially infected aerosols and droplets can be removed from the tent and directed into the scavenging system. According to NUS, the tent decreases the number of materials contaminated by the clinician’s hands, arms and instruments and limits the spread of aerosols onto surfaces in the treatment room.

NUS said that the researchers had tested the device in clinical settings by measuring bacterial content on personal protective equipment (PPE) face shields worn by the treatment teams and on the surface of the dental chair light, before and after high-contamination scaling procedures. “The results showed [there] was no increase in the number of viable bacteria on these surfaces after the treatment with the use of the Dental DART. On the other hand, without the use of the tent, there was a significant increase in contamination by 14 times,” NUS said.

“Dental DART can help provide a safer environment in the dental clinic setting, and decrease the anxiety and psychological distresses imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic”

– Prof. Mandeep Singh Duggal, NUS

Dr Vinicius Rosa, a co-inventor of the device, commented: “Personal protective equipment, or PPE, can be infected after being exposed to aerosols from dental procedures. The use of the Dental DART can decrease the PPE exposure to aerosols and prevent further environmental contamination at the time the clinicians remove their arms, hands, and instruments from the tent.”

The research team has filed a patent for the Dental DART and hopes to collaborate with the healthcare sector and other industry partners in order to make the device available to dental teams in Singapore and around the world.

Co-inventor Prof. Mandeep Singh Duggal, of NUS Dentistry, said that the Dental DART could play a role in decreasing the stress experienced by patients and dental professionals during the pandemic. He explained: “Dentistry is an essential service and it has suffered tremendously since the beginning of this pandemic. Many dental service providers in Singapore have imposed a complete ban on aerosol-generating procedures during the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. While imposing such extreme measures is understandable, it has also left thousands of people without proper treatment. Our Dental DART can help provide a safer environment in the dental clinic setting, and decrease the anxiety and psychological distresses imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on all parties involved.”

1July 2020

Spirit Medical Transport Receives New Vehicles and Equipment

GREENVILLE, OH—The owners of Spirit Medical Transport LLC didn’t let COVID-19 dampen the spirits of the company’s annual Christmas party. In fact, they took the party to new heights.

As employees and their families gathered virtually and in their own cars for a drive-in style Christmas party, owners Brian K. Hathaway and Aaron Guthrie made a phone call to Santa and asked whether he could fly to the Christmas party. Within minutes, spectators at the drive-in event watched the sky as Santa came in for a landing on the racetrack of the Darke County Fairgrounds.

Drive-in and virtual attendees were personally delivered a home-cooked meal, wrapped packages for their children, gift cards, and awards.

The evening started out with a moment of silence in remembrance of Jack Rader, a Spirit employee who died earlier this year. Rader’s name and photo has been added to the back of the Spirit memorial ambulance, which bears the names of three other former Spirit employees and supporters.

Despite a drastic reduction in calls for the year overall, the company was able to maintain its employee base and avoid layoffs. The owners applauded their employees and the families who supported one another during the challenging year.

“Our employees and their families have remained strong, and we want to show our investment in each of you for the dedication you have shown,” Guthrie said. “Our employees are the backbone of our business, and we want to equip you with the best of the best anytime we can.”

The owners revealed one new 2020 Dodge Caravan, three new 2020 Dodge wheelchair vans, four fully stocked 2020 Ford Transit Medix ambulances, two fully stocked 2021 Ford E-350 Medix box ambulances, four new Ferno Power X1 cots, one Ferno iNX power load stretcher with new bariatric component capable of lifting patients up to 1,100 pounds, 10 new Lifepak 15 cardiac monitors with specialized components, six new Toughbook computers, and one Hercules 6000 automatic car wash.

“Over the past three years as a company we have made a significant investment into having one of the best fleet of vehicles on the road,” Hathaway explained. “To save our employees precious time from having to hand wash their new vehicles at the end of their shift, they will now be able to have it washed from top to bottom in a matter of minutes, thanks to the new automatic wash system we have purchased.”

The owners also expressed the gratitude they have of the facilities they serve, and announced they have 78 facilities on a waiting list wanting the services Spirit offers, but simply don’t have the personnel to meet the growing demand. The owners also announced a benefits restructure and monthly raise program.

Spirit Medical Transport, LLC, employs over 100 people and serves western Ohio and eastern Indiana with stations in the towns of Greenville, Celina, Van Wert, Sidney, and Liberty.

25June 2020

Study details first AI tool to help labs rule-out COVID-19

Hospital-based laboratories and doctors at the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic might soon add artificial intelligence to their testing toolkit. A recent study conducted with collaborators from the University of Vermont and Cedars-Sinai describes the performance of Biocogniv’s new AI-COVID™ software.

The team found high accuracy in predicting the probability of COVID-19 infection using routine blood tests, which can help hospitals reduce the number of patients referred for scarce PCR testing.

“Nine months into this pandemic, we now have a better understanding of how to care for patients with COVID-19,” says lead author and University of Vermont Assistant Professor Timothy Plante, M.D., M.H.S., “but there’s still a big bottleneck in COVID-19 diagnosis with PCR testing.”

PCR testing is the current standard diagnostic for COVID-19, and requires specific sampling, like a nasal swab, and specialized laboratory equipment to run.

Biocogniv Chief Operating Officer Tanya Kanigan, Ph.D., says, “According to data from over 100 US hospitals, the national average turnaround time for COVID-19 tests ordered in emergency rooms is above 24 hours, far from the targeted one-hour turnaround.”

Complete Blood Count and Complete Metabolic Panels are common laboratory tests ordered by emergency departments and have a rapid turnaround time. These tests provide insight into the immune system, electrolytes, kidney, and liver. The researchers were able to train a model that analyzes changes in these routine tests and assigns a probability of the patient being COVID-19 negative with high accuracy.

“AI-COVID takes seconds to generate its informative result once these blood tests return, which can then be incorporated by the laboratory into its own test interpretation,” says Jennifer Joe, M.D., an emergency physician in Boston, Mass. and Biocogniv’s Chief Medical Officer. “In an efficient emergency department that prioritizes these routine blood tests, the door-to-result time could be under an hour.”

Cedars-Sinai pulmonary and internal medicine specialist Victor Tapson, M.D., says such assistive tools that help physicians rule out possible diagnoses are familiar in emergency medicine. “For example, a low D-dimer blood test can help us rule out clots in certain patients, allowing providers to skip expensive, often time-consuming diagnostics such as chest CT scans,” says Tapson.

The Biocogniv team believes a secondary benefit of laboratories incorporating AI-COVID might be reduced time for traditional PCR results. “With the help of AI-COVID, laboratories might relieve some of the testing bottleneck by helping providers better allocate rapid PCR testing for patients who really need it,” says Joe.

The AI-COVID model was validated on real world data from Cedars-Sinai as well as on data from geographically and demographically diverse patient encounters from 22 U.S. hospitals, achieving an area under the curve (or AUC) of 0.91 out of 1.00.

“This enables the model to achieve a high sensitivity of 95% while maintaining moderate specificity of 49%, which is very similar to the performance of other commonly used rule-out tests,” says Biocogniv Chief Scientific Officer George Hauser, MD, a pathologist.

Biocogniv CEO Artur Adib, Ph.D., says, “I’m honored to have such an impressive team of medical scientists from the University of Vermont and Cedars-Sinai as collaborators in validating this timely model. AI has progressed considerably; the time is now to leverage this powerful tool for new healthcare breakthroughs, and we’re glad to direct it to help hospital laboratories and providers combat the current COVID-19 crisis.”