New Technologies and the Fight against Coronavirus: a winning alliance

New Technologies and the Fight against Coronavirus: a winning alliance

While France has officially begun its deconfinement process, since May 11th, the coronavirus is still raging and continues its progression.

 

To counter this threat, French and world authorities have set out to protect their populations in record time.

In addition to protective equipment and the reinforcement of healthcare staff, new technologies have emerged into the battle.

 

At each stage of the care process, new technologies have made themselves indispensable. From monitoring the epidemic in the population to treatment in intensive care units, through screening stages; technological innovations have provided a response to the obstacles that mark the pathway of the coronavirus patient.

 

When health combines with technology, a new era seems to appear. Let’s find out what technological innovations have exploded in recent weeks.

 

 

Epidemic management and tracking

 

Tracking applications

 

If one country seems to separate itself from the crowd in the management of the epidemic, it is Taiwan, with 430 confirmed cases and 6 deaths as of 7 May 2020. The chosen approach is largely based on a mobile tracking application that allows tracing sick people, tracking their movements and ensuring their compliance with quarantine regulations. This application also makes it possible to disseminate prevention messages.

 

The user information, once retrieved by the services concerned, is sorted and analyzed to monitor the evolution of the epidemic in real time. It also makes it possible to retrace the patient’s journey and to identify contacts potentially carrying the virus, which will be systematically detected. All these uses are made possible thanks to the intervention of Big Data.

This precise knowledge of the current health of the population at the local and general level makes it possible to direct control strategies in a targeted manner.1

 

In South Korea, each citizen is invited to share its health data via an application. From the collection of this data, interactive maps are built and made available to the population on the coronamap.com website, offering an instant view of the evolution of the epidemic thanks once again to tracking and Big Data technology. 

 

Social networks

 

Social networks also have a role to play in the fight against the epidemic. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO), in association with WhatsApp, has launched a chatbot. This conversational tool is able to chat with the user in several languages. It understands the questions asked and builds appropriate answers in order to disseminate information about the coronavirus and fight against the spread of fake news. 1

In this example, artificial intelligence and natural language generation are the key to this success.

Other industry players, including Facebook, TikTok and Twitter, among others, launched a global online hackathon with the theme: developing digital solutions to the challenges of Covid-19. 1

Note the EPILOGUE initiative set up by the company KAP Code and its partners, which aims to better report and decode social networks on COVID.

 

Epidemic monitoring software 2

 

In China, when the virus was mainly localized in Wuhan province, epidemiological models with artificial intelligence were among the first to note the existence of this epidemic and to alert to the risks of a global pandemic.

The first signs of the epidemic were identified through the local media (WeChat and Weibo) by studying their use by the population. Based on the research done and the vocabulary used during discussions, the algorithm can estimate the magnitude of the epidemic. 

 

 

Screening

 

The explosion of the teleconsultation

 

In France, since the beginning of containment, the number of remote consultations by teleconsultation has exploded.

According to figures shared by health insurance, 80,000 consultations have been counted each week in France since March 17TH (start date containment) compared to 40,000 for the whole of February 2020.3 Teleconsultations now account for more than 11% of all consultations, compared to less than 1% before the coronavirus crisis.

 

The direct consequence of this increase in the number of teleconsultations is the number of practitioners who use them, whether they are private or hospital practitioners. One third of physicians used this technology in the last week of April.4

One website is leader on the French market, Doctolib, whose announced figures place it far ahead of the rest of the competition.

 

Ultra-fast PCR to the nation’s rescue5

 

In the area of Covid-19 screening, a second initiative should be noted. This is the call for projects launched by the French Ministry of the Armed Forces. The aim is to develop, as soon as possible, a technology that will allow rapid detection of the virus in the persons tested.

 

Among the 1,050 proposals received, BforCure stood out. Its “Nomorecov” project consists of developing a mobile, modular and connected automaton for the rapid detection (less than 30 minutes) of a coronavirus infection. The first tests are expected in 6 months.

 

With this technology, “Nomorecov” aims to achieve a reliable and rapid screening, without the use of a centralized laboratory, which is currently the usual procedure. An additional interest is that it will also be able to detect the presence of the virus in the air or on surfaces. These two last applications are particularly expected by hygienists.

 

BforCure has developed the Fastgene™ diagnostic technology that allows ultra-fast PCR reactions to be performed and thus detect the presence of viruses very quickly. With these companies like BforCure, France has been able to leverage its national expertise to develop cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of the population.

 

Detection by medical imaging 2

 

Canadian start-up Darwin AI has developed a neural network that promises to detect signs of Covid-19 infection on X-rays from radiography.

Currently, screening for COVID-19 is mostly done by taking samples from suspected carriers, but the analysis of chest X-rays could offer an alternative to lack of health staff or screening kits to assess all patients quickly.

The company is also developing a neural network to classify patients who are carriers of Covid-19, in order to separate them into two groups, those for whom it is preferable to stay at home while waiting for recovery, and those who require hospitalization.

 

While new technologies have their place in simplifying the detection of the virus, they are also being used in the management of patients diagnosed as coronavirus-positive.

 

 

Management

 

The unexpected arrival of 3D printers

 

One of the main innovations emerging from this period of health crisis is the use of 3D printers for medical purposes. The Cochin hospital in Paris has equipped itself with sixty industrial 3D printers, installed in one of the hospital’s rooms. This small production plant was set up to meet the needs of the medical teams in real time by manufacturing about twenty different parts. Non-invasive ventilation masks, respirator connectors, visors or protective glasses are now manufactured on site. The objective is to manufacture 1,000 to 3,000 parts per day. 6

Doctors, nurses and caregivers can design medical devices at the patient’s bedside, and a team of Bones 3D engineers takes care of development and production. A validation by a clinical and a pharmacological department ensures the quality of the production. Simplified development procedures, accelerated production time and almost instantaneous first use, new technologies fly to the rescue of medical personnel! 7

 

 

The support of artificial intelligence in the search for treatments 2

 

In recent years, artificial intelligence has been widely used by pharmaceutical companies for the development of new molecules. This process, called “Molecular Screening”, tests a very large number of chemical structures virtually in a chain. If the tested molecules interact with the receptor, then the tests can continue. This technique makes it possible to discover new molecules that are potentially effective in an accelerated manner.

While this process was used mainly in chronic diseases, the trend has been strongly reversed in recent months, with all eforts being focused on the discovery of a treatment for the coronavirus, in order to quickly find a new treatment.

 

 

At the same time, this same screening process made it possible to test molecules already on the market for other pathologies and to estimate the effect they could have on COVID-19. The system suggested a number of compounds that could potentially have a positive effect.

 

In recent weeks, there has been a tremendous emergence of personal and governmental initiatives, a real flurry of technological ideas, all in the service of the fight against the virus. The question that remains unanswered is whether these new habits, which we have adopted in a condensed period of time, will succeed in finding a lasting place in our daily lives once the situation returns to “normal”.

 

Mathilde Pasko

TechToMed Consultant

mathilde.pasko@techtomed.com

 

 

 

References

 

  1. Les technologies au service de la lutte contre le coronavirus. La Croix. https://www.la-croix.com/Sciences-et-ethique/Numerique/technologies-service-lutte-contre-coronavirus-2020-03-31-1201087005. Published March 31, 2020. Accessed April 30, 2020.
  2. Coronavirus : explosion de la téléconsultation en mars. Les Echos. Published March 31, 2020. Accessed May 7, 2020. https://www.lesechos.fr/economie-france/social/coronavirus-explosion-de-la-teleconsultation-en-mars-1190676
  3. Coronavirus : explosion des téléconsultations en France, Doctolib grand gagnant. La Tribune. Accessed May 7, 2020. https://www.latribune.fr/technos-medias/internet/coronavirus-explosion-des-teleconsultations-en-france-doctolib-grand-gagnant-844660.html
  4. Covid-19 : le ministère des Armées soutient une nouvelle technologie de détection rapide du virus. Accessed April 30, 2020. https://www.defense.gouv.fr/actualites/articles/covid-19-le-ministere-des-armees-soutient-une-nouvelle-technologie-de-detection-rapide-du-virus
  5. Industrie-techno. [Covid-19] A l’hôpital Cochin, 60 imprimantes 3D produisent des pièces pour dispositifs médicaux et consommables. Published online April 9, 2020. Accessed April 30, 2020. /article/covid-19-a-l-hopital-cochin-60-imprimantes-3d-produisent-des-pieces-pour-dispositifs-medicaux-et-consommables.60096
  6. [SOCIAL TECH] Coronavirus : des imprimantes 3D à l’hôpital Cochin | via @Carenews. Accessed May 7, 2020. https://www.carenews.com/fr/news/social-tech-coronavirus-des-imprimantes-3d-a-l-hopital-cochin