Imperial’s international networks of scientists tackling coronavirus pandemic

Imperial’s work to lead the response to the coronavirus pandemic has brought together some of the world’s best scientists and institutions.

Teams at Imperial are working with partners all over the world to map the scale of the outbreak, develop and trial new treatments and search for a potential vaccine.

Much of this work wouldn’t be possible without international researchers, partners and institutions sharing data, expertise and ideas.

We take a look at some of the progress which is being made through global cooperation.

Europe: body maps, rapid test and diagnosis

Imperial scientists are working with peers at France’s CNRS and University Cote d’Azur, and the Netherlands’ University Medical Centre Groningen, to create a map of the human body to identify locations where the COVID-19 virus can enter human cells.

The EU’s Institute of Innovation and Technology awarded Professor Molly Stevens a major grant from to develop a coronavirus test – which aims to deliver rapid results within an hour. The test will be able to detect ultra-low concentrations of the virus, meaning that patients can be diagnosed much earlier in the infection’s life-cycle.

A report estimated that coronavirus social distancing measures could have averted up to 120,000 deaths across Europe. An Imperial team used real-time daily data from the European Centre of Disease Control (ECDC) on the number of deaths in 11 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

A team of Imperial researchers are involved with the DRAGON project, which will apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver a decision support system for improved and more rapid diagnosis and prognosis. The project funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and supported through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

Imperial academic Dr Erik Volz, from the School of Public Health, is working with the CoroNAb project led by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, to rapidly identify, validate, and disseminate pre-clinical protein therapeutic candidates with neutralizing activity against 2019-nCoV, and to recommend where their use would be maximally effective.

Imperial College Business School academics worked with a Spanish bank to estimate that consumer spending in Spain has halved during coronavirus lockdown.

Asia: new treatments and a potential vaccine

Imperial virologist Professor Xiaoning Xu, from the Department of Infectious Disease, will lead on a project to develop a therapy to treat COVID-19. Working with Hong Kong University and In collaboration with scientists from China, the researchers will develop antibodies that target the virus with the aim of developing a new therapy for COVID-19.

Before the pandemic began, Dr Kai Hu, who is originally from Wuhan, China was supported by the Chinese Scholarship Council to come to Imperial to join one of the world’s best vaccine development research groups. Dr Hu is now playing a critical role in that team’s work which recently received a £22.5m grant from the UK government to accelerate their research. Their vaccine development would not be possible without the early research by Chinese scientists in Wuhan who sequenced the genome of the coronavirus.

North America: low cost ventilators and TB

A team of Bioengineers are working with manufactures in the USA to produce a low cost, high performance emergency ventilator to help patients with coronavirus. The ventilator, called JamVent, has been designed so that it doesn’t rely on specialist parts, but can perform the demanding tasks necessary for treating patients with COVID-19.

A study with Johns Hopkins University and USAID found that millions of people are expected to fall ill with tuberculosis due to coronavirus lockdown.

Africa: Burkina Faso expertise

Dr Etienne Bilgo, a medical entomologist and research fellow at IRSS/Centre Muraz, based in Bobo-Dioulasso, the second city of Burkina Faso explained to the Imperial College Network of Excellence in Malaria that the 41 COVID-19 associated deaths in the country, which represents over 6% of total diagnosed cases “is very high and shows how weak our system is. We don’t have the infrastructure or resources to cope with such high numbers of sick people”.

Professor Kathryn Maitland, from the Department of Infectious Disease, is leading an observational study of the conservative use of oxygen in African children with severe pneumonia during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Latin America: Brazil infection rates

Imperial research, supported by Brazil’s FAPESP, found that the coronavirus epidemic in Brazil is not yet under control. The team looked at the five states in Brazil with the highest number of deaths and estimate that the population infection levels range from 3.3% in São Paulo to 10.6% in Amazonas.

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