At a time when discussions are on whether technology will destroy the art of medicine, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Palakkad, is tweaking its brains to make an impact on clinical care in the State.
After scanning the database of 60,000 COVID-19 patients in Italy, an IIT team led by Vinod A. Prasad, Professor, Electrical Engineering, and Dean, Industry Collaboration and Sponsored Research, is working on an automated analysis of ultrasound lung scans using machine learning techniques.
Clinical trials in collaboration with the Sree Chitra Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) will be conducted soon.
“At present, X-Ray and CT scans that are hazardous, costly, and impractical in ICU wards are the commonly used diagnostic modalities for evaluating the lung condition of COVID-19 patients in India. But doctors in Italy have demonstrated the usefulness of lung ultrasound scans for monitoring patients on a daily basis for timely medical intervention to reduce mortality,” Prof. Prasad said.
Based on the data of COVID-19 patients shared by the University of Trento, Italy, Prof. Prasad said the IIT was developing an automated analysis for the Italian ultrasound lung images and would validate it in Indian hospitals in clinical collaboration with the SCTIMST.
The technique could also be applied to monitor other lung diseases, he said.
He said the IIT had multiple projects on hand such as portable low-cost emergency ventilator for COVID-19 patients, low-cost pulse plethysmograph for ICUs, low-cost test kit for fast screening of COVID-19, and realtime tracking of crowd and quarantined people using cellular network data.
His team, which included Afzaal Ahmed, Mahesh R. Panicker, V. Sreenath, Shanmugaraju Sankarasekaran, and Lakshmi Narasimhan, is working on the projects with the corporate social responsibility fund of Federal Bank.
An agreement has been signed with the Kanjikode Industries Forum for developing a prototype of easy-to-operate portable low-cost emergency ventilator for COVID-19 patients.
“This ventilator will be designed with space constraints in mind and capable of addressing the breathing requirements of two patients simultaneously, each with independent control,” Prof. Prasad said.
Regarding rapid screening of COVID-19 patients, he said the project would be a paper strip-based visual testing method that could be used at point-to-care analysis in a community setting. “The testing method we plan to develop is based on an immunoassay involving the antibody-viral antigen recognition. The basic concept of immunoassay-based testing is similar to how a pregnancy test works,” he said.
“We first prepare a filter paper-based test-strip coated with specific antibodies that selectively recognise the COVID-19 viral proteins. Before this, the antibodies are functionalised with gold nanoparticles that indicate COVID-19 infected person through visual colour changes from red to blue or grey depending on the conditions. This testing method is specific and one full test can be run within 10-15 minutes,” Prof. Prasad said.
On the real-time tracking of people, he said this tool would alert enforcement agencies whenever the density of people crossed a certain threshold.