In response to the recent outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), i-sense researchers have been working collaboratively to rapidly adapt our tools and technologies to support development of emergency diagnostics and surveillance to assess the prevalence of the virus.
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML https://www.flickr.com/photos/niaid/49531042907/in/album-72157712914621487/
“Today i-sense members are working with the World Health Organization, Public Health England and Africa CDC on COVID-19 and advising funders,” says i-sense Director, Prof Rachel McKendry.
i-sense researchers have been adapting our agile track, test, treat platform technologies to detect COVID-19.
“Adaptive tools and technologies are crucial to aid in an emergency epidemic response, helping patients and protecting populations,” says Prof McKendry.
Prof Rosanna Peeling is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) on defining Target Product Profiles for COVID-19 diagnostics and is a member of the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team that helps WHO and Public Health England (PHE) with technical support to countries.
Prof Peeling is also supporting the Africa CDC with lab training workshops to build diagnostics capacity in Africa.
How are i-sense technologies being adapted in response to COVID-19?
Working in partnership with PHE, our i-sense Flu Detector AI algorithms that use self-reported symptoms via web based searches, are being adapted to provide an estimate of the prevalence of the COVID-19 in the community.
i-sense flu is one of the first AI algorithms to be adopted by PHE for national flu surveillance.
Our ultra-sensitive point-of-care diagnostic tests are rapidly being adapted to detect the presence of COVID-19 in a much shorter timeframe and without the need for specialist lab equipment.
Current lab-based methods of testing patients for COVID-19 typically take between 40 minutes and two hours to provide a result and require samples to be sent to a centralised laboratory. Delays in posting samples and waiting for results can lead to increased spread of a disease in the population and delayed care for the patient.
“Our previous advanced nanoparticle technologies developed for ultrasensitive viral detection of HIV can be adapted to enable early and facile detection of COVID-19,” says Prof Molly Stevens, Prof of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine at Imperial, i-sense Deputy Director and Flagship 4 (HIV and Ebola) lead.
Our smartphone connected diagnostics aim to test at the point-of-care and connect results to health databases in real-time, with geo-linked information to help identify ‘hotspots’.
We are building real-time data dashboards working with UCL Hospital, adapting our work on flu to COVID-19 in order to support patient management.
What is a novel coronavirus?
A novel coronavirus is a new strain of virus from the coronavirus family that has not previously been identified in humans. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning human coronaviruses originate through transmission from animals, including the most recent COVID-19.
How is it different from seasonal influenza?
Each year, seasonal influenza affects many thousands of people in the UK and millions worldwide, producing symptoms ranging from those similar to a common cold through to very severe symptoms or even death.
Flu viruses constantly change and mutate. Small changes in proteins called antigens on the outer surface of the virus happen over time and during transmission of the virus from person-to-person. This causes the changes to seasonal flu that results in the vaccine having to be updated each year.
By contrast, pandemic influenza strains can arise from major antigen changes, for example when a human, animal or avian strains combine or get adapted and infect humans. In such cases there is little or no immunity to this new virus in the population and large numbers of people can become infected in a short space of time and lead to increased death rates especially in the elderly.
Why is early detection important?
Early detection of any new virus or re-emerging virus plays a crucial role in pandemic emergency response strategies.
The World Health Organization COVID-19 research and development blue print for epidemic preparedness and response convened a global research and innovation forum on 11 and 12 February 2020. The report listed eight immediate research actions needed to control the epidemic.
“The top priority is to mobilise research on rapid point-of-care diagnostics for use at the community level,” says Prof Rosanna Peeling, Prof and Chair of Diagnostics Research, and Director of International Diagnostics Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“The i-sense smartphone-based technology platform shows a lot of promise as a simple rapid test that can be rapidly deployed for control programmes to use real-time, location-linked data in communities to inform containment strategies and other interventions to end the epidemic”.
i-sense funding for COVID-19 research
We have also recently launched a new i-sense funding scheme and encourage applications for projects related to COVID-19 and are looking to build new links with end users and industry.
More information and the application form can be found here.
- UK Government updates and advice
- Public Health England Twitter updates
- World Health Organization COVID-19 outbreak information
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 information
i-sense related media coverage