Generalitat Valenciana selects four UMH innovative research projects to fight COVID-19

Four innovative research projects to employ in the fight against COVID-19 from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH) have been selected by the Generalitat Valenciana, as part of the #JoinTheChallengeAgainstCovid-19 funding call organized in conjunction with the Valencian Innovation Agency (AVI). This morning at Distrito Digital, President of the Generalitat, Ximo Puig, Minister of Science and Innovation, Pedro Duque, and Minister of Innovation, Universities, Science and Digital Society, Carolina Pascual, announced the 41 winning projects, which will now divide 3,100,000 euros to implement their projects.

Specifically, the Generalitat Valencia has awarded UMH project, “Robotic Sample Extraction System for Subsequent Laboratory Analysis and Diagnosis,” led by professor, Nicolás García Aracil, from the Systems Engineering and Automation area and who is an investigator at the UMH Institute of Bioengineering. The aforementioned system, comprised of a robotic manipulator and a network of cameras to extract samples of nasopharynx exudate and/or oropharynx exudate, can prevent infecting healthcare personnel and, simultaneously, would enable performing these tasks more efficiently and intensively. Another system advantage is the possibility of performing sample taking in parallel and multiplying the extraction capacities for subsequent analyses. This particular proposal derives from previous experience in developing robots to perform fine motor tasks for humans, and part of the European AIDE Project. What’s more, this development will not only be useful in the fight against the current pandemic, but will also be so in the future.

Another of the selected innovative projects from the UMH is that of “Intelligent System to Support Decisions for Optimally Distributing the Application of Rapid COVID-19 Tests,” led by assistant professor, José Luis Sainz-Pardo Auñón, from the area of Statistics and Operations and Research and also a researcher at the Institute “Center of Operations Research” (CIO). This desktop application provides the number of tests to carry out each day of the time horizon, and within which ZIP codes, aiming to minimize the speed of expansion of COVID-19. To accomplish this, it takes into account, among other parameters, the number of detected cases, that of susceptible cases, and the possible evolution of the virus. The system, furthermore, updates every day based on the daily information it is supplied with, and adjusts possible scenarios. It also provides the expansion map of COVID-19 and its possible evolution. It is able to improve the number of cases detected by more than 50% when compared to the application of tests homogeneously on a daily basis and proportional to the cases detected within each ZIP code.

Likewise, the Generalitat has recognized an FFP2 mask prototype made of flexible and adjustable rubber and complete with a HEPA H13 filtering system, which was designed by the UMH Scientific Park. This mask, developed by technicians from that park’s Prototyping Laboratory, compensates for the aggressive filters that masks of these types usually contain by increasing the filter diameter, since, with a greater volume, it enables greater airflow. The proposed prototype can satisfy the development of FFP2 masks, which means that it has a filtration efficiency greater than 98% and an interior leak percentage less than 2%, according to technical report 3/3/20 on COVID-19 and the use of masks.

Finally, the fourth UMH project chosen is that of “New Uses for Defibrotide Medicines and Cord Blood Plasma” (Patent US2017/0246217A1), whose lead investigator is UMH professor of physiology and researcher at the Institute of Bioengineering, Bernat Soria, along with the Health and Biomedical Research Institute of Alicante (ISABIAL). According to the WHO, degree 6 COVID-19 patient (intubated in the ICU with mechanical ventilation) mortality rates exceed 90%. Pulmonary inflammation and cytokine storms in COVID-19 are similar to macrophage activation syndrome and secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Moreover, it presents pulmonary thromboembolism. Defibrotide medicines and an easily accessible biological, cord blood plasma, have shown their effectiveness in processes similar to degree 6 of COVID-19.

The requirements for the proposals stated that they were not currently available but could be implemented within the short term in areas directly related to protecting against COVID-19 and improving healthcare. The funding call, announced in March 2020 by Minister Carolina Pascual, will distribute 3,100,000 euros among the 41 projects that were selected to find and develop innovative solutions to manufacture ventilators, masks, suits, glasses, and gloves, providing improved protection and capabilities. Also eligible were solutions aimed at virus detection and containment, including massive disinfection systems, as well as new intervention devices or treatments, among others.