How World’s Top Universities Are Confronting the Novel Coronavirus?

by March 29, 2020

The coronavirus, also known as COVID 19, couldn’t have been more hazardous. The pandemic has killed thousands of people across the world to date. Hospitals, corporates, industries, educational institutions – all are facing the wrath of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2). The world has united to fight against this hazard. Following the guidelines of WHO (World Health Organization), vulnerable countries including Italy, India, and others are into lockdown, practicing social distancing to contain the spread of the virus. Amid these, all corporate organizations across the world have offered work from home to their employees and various institutes have given access to online classes to their students.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University are conducting classes online as the number of coronavirus cases grows in Massachusetts. Online instruction, which some units are already experimenting with, will begin for all classes on March 30, and continue for the remainder of the semester, MIT said.

Undergraduates should not return to campus after spring break, MIT said. Undergraduates who live in an MIT residence or fraternity, sorority or independent living group have been ordered to pack and depart.

Harvard also stated earlier that it will transition to online instruction for all graduate and undergraduate classes by March 23. Students are asked not to return to campus after spring break.

Moreover, in its Community Notification, Harvard said, “Harvard University is closely monitoring the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. As the situation continues to change rapidly, our top priority remains the health, safety, and well-being of our community, on and off-campus. We are planning for several contingency scenarios and taking decisive, informed action to limit the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring the continuity of our teaching and research mission.”

More than a dozen four-year universities have decided to expand pass/fail options for students due to the crisis. Typically, the option to be graded on a pass/fail basis, rather than being given a letter or percentage grade, is only available to students for a limited number of classes. Often students have to make a commitment before a course begins or early in its run to use pass/fail. Other restrictions include not being able to take classes as pass/fail in a major or as general education requirements, and pass/fail classes rarely are counted toward grade point averages.
University provosts and administrations have said expanding pass/fail options give students flexibility during the crisis and can mitigate their anxiety.


Virtual Celebrations in Top Universities

As noted by Boston Herald, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced recently it is moving spring commencement online and is planning for an in-person celebration “at some point in the future.” The Cambridge institution is the latest addition to a growing list of local colleges forced to adjust their time-honored traditions due to coronavirus.

With restrictions on large gatherings unlikely to lift in the near future, colleges across Massachusetts are searching for ways to proceed with the commencement ceremonies that for thousands of students serve as a crowning achievement after years of hard work.

Several schools — including Brandeis University, Emerson College, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Simmons University, Suffolk University, UMass Amherst and UMass Dartmouth — are now turning to virtual events and searching for future dates to hold celebrations even as they concede they’ll have to send diplomas by mail this spring.

Harvard will hold an online ceremony on May 28 and will hold an in-person event “sometime later, once we know it is safe to bring people together again.”


Leveraging the Technological Innovation Against COVID-19

Considering the flooding of patients in hospitals and shortages of critical medical supplies and devices, MIT’s team is in the process of developing low-cost ventilators in order to help hospitals meet the growing demand for them. The team consists engineers, physicians and computer scientists who began working on the project earlier this month after the university received numerous messages urging them to resume a project from a decade ago, in which a group of students designed and tested an inexpensive ventilator device, but only published a paper on it, according to a statement from MIT.

Ventilators, which help patients breathe when they’re physically unable to, typically cost US$30,000, according to MIT, but the university said the device they are developing could be built with about US$100 worth of parts.

Specifically, the team said, it is trying to create a mechanically operated bag-valve resuscitator, which is an inexpensive alternative to a ventilator that currently only works by being hand-operated. According to MIT, hospitals already have a large amount of these resuscitators, also known as Ambu bags, but because they need to be operated by hand and hospital workers are stretched too thin, they are not a viable replacement at the moment.

On the other hand, in India, with the number of Covid-19 cases rising in the country, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur is developing portable ventilators which will be significantly cheaper than the ones available in the market.

Professors at IIT-Kanpur claim that while invasive ventilators are available at around Rs 4 lakh per unit in the market, this ventilator will be made at a cost of Rs 70,000 per unit as all the components have been sourced from India only.

Two graduates from the institute — Nikhil Kurule and Harshit Rathore — who are running a startup called ‘Nocca Robotics’ incubated at IIT Kanpur, have developed a prototype for the portable ventilator.

IIT-Kanpur has formed a nine-member team, including doctors from Narayana Institute of Cardiac Sciences (NICS), Bengaluru to vet the prototype following which the startup will get around 1,000 portable ventilators ready within a month.

According to the team, the prototype developed is an invasive type mechanical ventilator capable of operating in pressure-controlled mode.

Besides, infectious disease experts from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute (BDI) proposed an idea in a paper that if a sufficiently large number of people installed a right Covid-19 contact tracing app on their phones, their movements could be tracked through GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth proximity sensing. It is further proposed that when the app spots a person who has crossed paths with someone who has contracted the virus, they can be abruptly contacted and sent for testing. The app can work retrospectively. The team at Oxford has provided the British and other European governments with feasible data indicating that such an app could be deployed effectively and ethically.


Research and Vaccine Search by Universities

Over 20 research institutes across India are working overnight to develop vaccines for the treatment of the highly infectious novel coronavirus, said a top government official. The National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) are among these research institutes. According to Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), which functions under the Ministry of Science and Technology, the government has received over 7,000 tech-based proposals from private companies and individuals across the country to fight Covid-19.

Swarup said the coronavirus research consortium, which has experts from the ICMR, DBT, NIV, is working to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. “We are researching new molecules for treatment. We are researching repurposed drugs to treat patients. More than 45 drugs have been identified that may be effective and research is going on.

Several DBT institutions are working to see which formulations can work effectively against Covid-19,” she said. “We are also sharing our research with an international consortium, which is working on vaccine development. But in any case, it will take time. They are at the animal trial stage and it will reach stage three of the human trail not before year-end,” she added.

Moreover, researchers at Oxford University are developing a coronavirus vaccine, aiming to have it ready by the end of the year, with a safety trial on humans as early as next month, according to British daily The Guardian. The university’s team is led by Dr. Sarah Gilbert, who leads the Jenner Institute’s influenza vaccine and emerging pathogens program. The vaccine will be known“` as ChAdOx1. Oxford’s vaccine will start animal trials next week. For human trials, the university will recruit people of all ages but will focus on older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus and less responsive to vaccines due to their weak immune systems.

Dr. Adrian Hill, the director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford, said: “We are conscious that a vaccine is needed as soon as possible and certainly by June-July when we expect a big peak in mortality.”

“This is not a normal situation. We will follow all standard trial safety requirements, but as soon as we have a vaccine that’s working, we anticipate there will be an accelerated pathway to get it deployed to save lives. The more vaccine we can provide sooner, the better.”

Furthermore, a team at the University of Texas at Austin also is working on new coronavirus research. Last month those researchers created the first molecular map of the virus’s spike protein, the part that attaches to and infects human cells. This map will be essential in creating vaccines and drugs for the disease, the university has said. The research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and supervised by staff members from the institute’s Vaccine Research Center.

Additionally, the MIGAL Research Institute in Israel announced that an Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV) vaccine developed to treat avian coronavirus has been modified to treat COVID-19. The vaccine has demonstrated efficacy in pre-clinical trials conducted by the Volcani Institute.

The IBV vaccine was developed after four years of research and has high genetic similarity to the human coronavirus. The institute has genetically modified the vaccine to treat COVID-19 and will be available in the oral form.