Universities investigate solutions for COVID-19
In these extraordinary times, the world is turning to science in the search for solutions to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Science has responded in full force and acted promptly to serve the world and help finding solutions that can save people’s lives and stop the pandemic. Being only 10 weeks since the beginning of the outbreak, it has been impressive to see how much the scientific understanding of the virus has evolved, and the scale of collaboration and sharing of research findings. While the quest for a vaccine might take between 12 to 18 months, universities have been multiplying their efforts for tackling both long-term and short-term needs of healthcare systems.
In Italy, the first country where the epidemic erupted in Europe, the national health system has been facing tremendous challenges, not only due to the affluence of patients needing treatment but also because more and more people require intensive care. There’s a particular need for ventilators and many health workers have reported severe consequences provoked by the lack of this equipment. To support their health system, researchers at the University of Bologna together with fellows from the Lombardy region, have developed a circuit that doubles the capacity of ventilators. The new device, that allows for one ventilator to supply oxygen to two patients, has been reproduced in less than three days by a local company and is now available in hospitals. Likewise, King’s College London, together with other UK-based partners, is addressing ways to increase the UK’s capacity for ventilator manufacturing, developing a prototype that can be easily deployable.
The most urgent action required in the long-term, however, is to discover a solution for the world to surpass this pandemic. Research is being carried out in many universities to develop vaccines, as well as to find a treatment. At the University of Bern, researchers are not only working on a vaccine since January, as they also look for more efficient production processes for treatment to be readily available. Complementing the worldwide quest for a vaccine, the Ghent University is testing, together with researchers in Texas (USA), antibody-based interventions: these offer immediate protection to the most vulnerable patients. Contrary to vaccines, treatments related to antibodies don’t require an active immune response. For the University of Groningen, one response to the crisis can come in the form of an inhaler that can play a crucial role in preventing the infection of healthcare professionals. Also developed through cross-institutional collaboration and in conjunction with local businesses, the inhaler already being tested would discharge a powder to protect the lungs, the organ most severely affected by the COVID-19 virus.
With the UK mobilising its resources, the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research has been named part of the £20m COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium. According to the university, the initiative will “sequence the genome of the virus from confirmed Scottish patients, and work with partners to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves in populations around the UK.”
However, we must not forget that an epidemic has an impact on the societies as a whole, not only their health services. Infectious diseases profoundly affect the daily life of people, families and communities. Thus, social sciences research is essential for stopping the outbreak, and help communities contribute to the control of the infection. Researchers from Aarhus University are studying the reaction and adaption of democratic systems to COVID-19 by undertaking real-time data collection in seven different countries. Moreover, a survey mobilizing ten universities across the globe, including the University of Warwick, is being conducted to reflect on how citizens prepare and cope with the spreading of coronavirus. At UCLouvain, in partnership with other institutions, social and phycological wellbeing are at the centre stage of ongoing research.
With COVID-19 on top of the world’s agenda, it is through an ambitious and continuous investment in science that humanity can be one step ahead of its greatest challenges.