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Covid 19 update: 11 December 2020

11 Dec 2020

A round-up of this week's coronavirus-related news and countermeasures from the photonics industry.

DeepChest and DeepBreath, new deep learning algorithms developed at EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland, can identify patterns of Covid-19 in lung images and breath sounds and may help in the fight against other respiratory diseases and the growing challenge of antibiotic resistance.

For Dr Mary-Anne Hartley, a medical doctor and researcher in EPFL’s Intelligent Global Health group (iGH), this past year has been relentless: “It’s not a relaxing time to study infectious diseases,” she said.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Hartley’s research team has been working with nearby Swiss university hospitals on two major projects. Using artificial intelligence, they have developed algorithms that, with data from ultrasound images and auscultation (chest/lung) sounds, can accurately diagnose the novel coronavirus in patients and predict how ill they are likely to become.

iGH is based in the Machine Learning and Optimization Laboratory of Professor Martin Jaggi, a world-leading hub of AI specialists, and part of EPFL’s School of Computer and Communication Sciences. “We’ve named the new deep learning algorithms DeepChest – using lung ultrasound images – and DeepBreath – using breath sounds from a digital stethoscope. This AI is helping us to better understand complex patterns in these fundamental clinical exams. The results are highly promising,” said Professor Jaggi.

Covid focus

CHUV, Lausanne’s University Hospital, is leading the clinical part of the DeepChest project, collecting thousands of lung ultrasound images from patients with Covid-19 compatible symptoms admitted to the Emergency Department. As principal investigator, Dr Noémie Boillat-Blanco explained that the project started in 2019, initially trying to identify markers that would enable better identification of viral pneumonia versus bacterial ones. However, the project took a more specific Covid focus in 2020.

“Many of the patients who agreed to take part in our study were scared and very ill,” she said, “but they wanted to contribute to broader medical research, as we do. There is a collective motivation to learn something from this crisis and to rapidly integrate new scientific knowledge into everyday medical practice.”

At HUG, the Geneva University Hospitals, Professor Alain Gervaix, M.D., Chairman, Department of Woman, Child and Adolescent Health has been collecting breath sounds since 2017 to build an intelligent digital stethoscope, the “Pneumoscope”. Originally designed as a project to better diagnose pneumonia, the novel coronavirus refocused its work.

The recordings have now been used to develop the DeepBreath algorithm at EPFL. Expected to be released by the end of the year it should enable the diagnosis of Covid-19 from breath sounds. Amazingly, first results suggest that DeepBreath is even able to detect asymptomatic Covid by identifying changes in lung tissue before the patient becomes aware of them.

AquiSense to Use NS Nanotech’s UVC source

UV-C LED systems designer AquiSense Technologies has announced it is to integrate NS Nanotech’s solid-state emitters of UV-C light into new products for researchers studying the disinfectant properties of light. The new products are said to be “the first to offer academic, government, and private industry researchers access to a semiconductor far-UV-C light source.

"The pandemic has created a growing need for better data on the safety and efficacy of UV-C technology,” said AquiSense CEO Oliver Lawal. “We are excited about the research possibilities of lower wavelength solid-state semiconductors integrated into our PearlLab range, which are expected to be on sale in 2021.”

NS Nanotech's ShortWaveLight Emitter will be the world’s first solid-state solution to generate far-UV-C light at wavelengths of 222 nm or shorter. Recent academic studies have indicated that far-UV-C light effectively deactivates human coronaviruses (alpha HCoV-229E and SARS-CoV-2) and that its shorter wavelength is less harmful to human skin than longer-wavelength UV-C light, the company states.

“We can help AquiSense provide the tools for researchers studying disinfection properties of UV-C light,” said NS Nanotech CEO Seth Coe-Sullivan. “The new AquiSense products will help accelerate the role of UVC light as potent weapons against coronavirus and future pathogens.”

Violeds technology for escalator handrail sterilization

Semiconductor solution provider Seoul Viosys has announced that its Violeds technology has been applied to an escalator handrail sterilization solution that is being supplied to leading global escalator and elevator OEMs by EHC Global (EHC), an Oshawa, ON, Canada-based engineering manufacturer.

Violeds is a clean technology that provides robust disinfection on the surface of handrails using UV LED light. It is designed to match the speed, area, and distance of the handrail to disinfect 99.9% of harmful viruses and bacteria in the areas exposed to the light.

EHC’s handrail sterilization solutions with Violeds technology have already been installed on escalators and moving walks around the world in a wide range of environments. For example, EHC recently supplied Violeds technology applied escalator handrails to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska in the U.S. and James Armstrong Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg, Canada.

“In response to the growing demand for vertical transportation solutions incorporating clean, antibacterial and disinfection technologies, EHC has implemented the Violeds UVC disinfection module,” said Patrick Bothwell, Vice President of Sales, EHC Global. “Thousands of installations have already been completed and we anticipate continued demand in 2021 and beyond.”

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