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National University Singapore Working to Solve Challenges Created by COVID-19

Departments within the National University of Singapore have been rising up to solve the challenges that have been presented by COVID-19.

They have been continuously driving forward innovations to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic on a broad range of areas including treatment, testing and infection prevention.

Using AI to find optimal treatment for COVID-19

Investigators from NUS Biomedical Engineering at the NUS N.1 Institute for Health have been using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to rapidly process the various possible combinations and identify the best results.

Using a platform called IDentif.AI, initially developed to find better treatments for cancer, the multidisciplinary team has been able to take a shortlist of 12 promising drugs and process billions of possible combinations and dosages at a speed that would be impossible using traditional medical trials.

“The strength of IDentif.AI is that we can perform one experiment and come out with a list of drug combinations for treatment within days. And if patients do not respond well to the first combinations of drugs, we can derive new combinations within days to re-optimise their care.” – Professor Dean Ho, Head of NUS Biomedical Engineering, and Director of NUS N.1 Institute for Health

Making Testing more effective and efficient

Effective testing is a key part of curbing and containing the spread of the pandemic.

A team at NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech) led by Professor Lim Chwee Teck of NUS Biomedical Engineering has developed a system for testing patients quickly, easily and on location. This avoids the need for samples to be sent to specialized lab testing facilities saving time, effort and cost.

The Epidax system is built around a specially designed chip and microfluidic technology that uses a smaller sample than standard diagnostic tests and returns results in around an hour. It was developed and tested in less than two months, despite the challenges researchers faced working under the restrictions imposed by Singapore’s Circuit Breaker.

“By enabling rapid, simplified yet highly accurate testing on site – such as at local clinics, care homes or airports – the Epidax system will enable us to identify infections and speed up action to prevent transmission,” – Professor Lim Chwee Teck, NUS Biomedical Engineering and Director, NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology

3D printing techniques and advanced materials

Using the latest 3D printing techniques and advanced materials, a team from NUS Mechanical Engineering attached to the NUS Centre for Additive Manufacturing (AM.NUS) is working to produce nasal swabs to solve the issues with demand.

They are also working on “masks that are comfortable to wear, safe and recyclable, another factor in making masks usable is for them to be as unobtrusive and patient-friendly as possible” using advanced printing machines available at NUS.

To reduce the chances of infection spreading, NUS Engineering researchers have been a key part of a collaborative effort with doctors and frontline caregivers to develop a portable and easy to clean shield.

Transparent, foldable and similar in appearance to a laboratory glove box, the DART, short for Droplet and Aerosol Reducing Tent, is placed around the patient’s head and is equipped with an air extractor and filter at the top to further reduce the chances of infected droplets leaking out.

Working in close collaboration, the DART team developed the shield in less than two months, with prototypes being tested in hospitals across Singapore.

The innovative solutions not only solve problems we face today during the pandemic but will be relevant for future outbreaks, will improve future diagnosis and provide frontline workers with the adequate protection they require to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

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