To support the response to epidemic diseases, it is essential to identify infection potential, draw up a long-term treatment strategy and address the link between contagion and social adaptation along with related economic impacts.
Today the whole world is fighting the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or commonly known as COVID-19. It has already taken on pandemic proportions, affecting many countries around the world in a matter of weeks.
VIRUSCAN: identifying viral particles and assessing their infection potential
A global response to come up with a vaccine as well as sustainable low-cost treatment is imperative. Emerging technologies and paradigm shifts in scientific research can support evidence-based analysis.
This is the case of the FET Proactive VIRUSCAN project, which implements new techniques in optomechanics, nanoelectromechanics, native mass spectrometry and biophysics for clinical applications.
VIRUSCAN will ultimately provide a novel technology capable of identifying viral particles and assessing their infection potential through the characterisation of two physical parameters: mass and stiffness. The research will use optomechanical devices to measure these parameters in virions with unique sensitivity in specific cases such as COVID-19, Ebola, Zyka, Dengue and Hepatitis C.
Targeting the intrinsic physical properties of viral particles offers a number of advantages: a platform to tackle any virus and its mutations could be developed; patients could receive personalised treatment; ineffective antibiotics could be identified and replaced; blood transfusions could be made safer; and a rapid and effective response to viral infection emergencies could be given.
CURE: countering the pandemic condition of asthma chronic disease
COVID-19 mainly affects the lungs and can bring about severe pneumonia if the person has underlying health conditions.
A new approach, with a paradigm shift, may help society to deal with this. In this respect, the FET Open CURE project is testing the efficacy of phage therapy which rebalances the bacteria and the bacterial viruses (phages) in the airways, considered as a possible underlying cause of asthma. The project will investigate how phage addition impacts the ecology of the airways and will design appropriate interventions for further use in clinical trials.
EPIWORK and CIMPLEX: Using data to understand the complexity of epidemics
By combining mathematical modelling and computational science with real-world data, it is possible to monitor outbreaks, contagion rates and define mitigating measures.
The aim is to use these models to develop better intervention strategies and minimise the impact of epidemics.
Is this a novel approach? Not at all!
The CIMPLEX project, funded under FET Proactive, is aimed at developing large scale, data-driven computational models, able to support a complete analysis of the systemic risk inherent to the spread of epidemics. With a high level of realism, the project uses participatory data-collection schemes and Big Data analysis to readjust and improve predictions in order to drive new policies and responses to upcoming pandemics.
“The overall focus of my research is on enabling digital systems to perceive and “understand” the real physical world,” were the words pronounced by CIMPLEX project coordinator Paul Lukowicz in his interview with the European Commission. The European approach to Future and Emerging Technologies under the European Innovation Council seeks to understand and support society in all its complexity, putting people at the centre of science and technology.
Cover photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash
Research projects in this story
Working on treating asthma using phage therapy
Using optomechanical devices to measure mass and stiffness parameters of virions with unique sensitivity
Interconnecting the spread of infectious diseases with social, economic and other systemic aspects, able to analyse the systemic risk inherent to epidemics and social contagion processes.
Developing a set of tools and knowledge to design infrastructures that could forecast epidemics