MIT team races to perfect cellphone tracing of cor
MIT team races to perfect cellphone tracing of coronavirus - Boston Herald
MIT scientists are racing to harness Bluetooth technology to boost contact tracing of the coronavirus. This revolution in cellphone technology is being launched in Massachusetts, with MIT’s L…
The smartphone could help the world get back to work. MIT’s Daniel J. Weitzner Courtesy MIT MIT scientists are racing to harness Bluetooth technology to boost contact tracing of the coronavirus. This revolution in cellphone technology is being launched in Massachusetts, with MIT’s Lincoln Labs in Lexington playing a crucial part. “The phone could save your life,” MIT’s Danny Weitzner, co-principal investigator of the Private Automated Contact Tracing (PACT) project, told the Herald. Both Apple and Google have signed on, announcing Friday they are all in until the pandemic is over. The tech giants stressed “user privacy” is paramount, but so, too, is uniting against the killer COVID-19. “This is a task for humanity to fight back against this virus,” MIT’s Ron Rivest told a panel of experts Zoomed-in this past week to brainstorm. He is PACT’s principal investigator, who Weitzner credited for dreaming up the idea of using Bluetooth technology anonymously to help trace coronavirus cases once the surge is over. Rivest is a cryptographer a developer of algorithms, ciphers and security systems to encrypt sensitive information who is challenging fellow academics and cellphone engineers to put the devices to work to help public health officials. MIT’s Ron Rivest (Courtesy MIT) The idea is to have the 270 million cellphone users in the U.S. voluntarily download system upgrades to their Apple and Android phones to allow proximity tracing. The technology would alert users if they came too close to someone who had recently tested positive for coronavirus. That would allow public health officials to quickly move to isolate potential new cases of the virus and stop new outbreaks. Apple and Google say the technology embedded in an app will be ready in May with users needing to “consent to the terms and conditions before the program is active.” But that’s just step one, Apple and Google added. “In the second phase, available in the coming months, this capability will be introduced at the operating system level to help ensure broad adoption, which is vital to the success of contact tracing,” the companies state in their release. Gov. Charlie Baker launched the nation’s first contact tracing program that’s being hailed as a model for the nation, as the Herald previously reported. It’s the same approach used to contain Ebola. Baker urged the MIT team during this past week’s video conference to hit the ground running to help hunt down all new cases of COVID-19 as states look to open up the economy. “This is not just an issue for Massachusetts, it’s not just an issue for the country, it’s frankly an issue for the world,” Baker said from his State House office. “This is an unprecedented time. There’s no playbook here. … but we’re not running away from the virus.” The key, panelists said, is robust testing of those suspected of having the virus; getting “boots on the ground” to track down those infected; using technology to aid in that tracing and assuring everyone their privacy will be protected. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said privacy concerns remain a sticky, sticky” issue. He added during an interview on Snapchat, according to The Washington Post, that cellphone tracing could alert someone that they were “next to these 25 people over the last 24 hours. Boy, I gotta tell you, the civil liberties-type pushback on that would be considerable. Israel, Taiwan, Germany, South Korea, China, Britain and others are already using cellphones to help trace COVID-19 cases. Weitzner stressed that one month into the project, they know only one thing matters: Make a solution available “to the whole world.” And do it fast. “If we can help control the spread of infection,” he added, “it’s good for everyone.”
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Covid-19: Germany flips on smartphone contact tracing, backs Apple and Google - The Star Online
Germany changed course on Sunday over which type of smartphone technology it wanted to use to trace coronavirus infections, backing an approach supported by Apple and Google along with a growing number of other European countries.
BERLIN: Germany changed course on on April 26 over which type of smartphone technology it wanted to use to trace coronavirus infections, backing an approach supported by Apple and Google along with a growing number of other European countries. Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Berlin would adopt a 'decentralised' approach to digital contact tracing, in so doing abandoning a home-grown alternative. Nations are rushing to develop apps to assess at scale the risk of catching Covid-19, where the chain of infection is proving hard to break because the flu-like disease can be spread by those showing no symptoms. In Europe, most countries have chosen short-range Bluetooth 'handshakes' between devices as the best approach, but have differed over whether to log such contacts on a central server or on individual devices. Germany as recently as Friday backed an initiative called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), whose centralised approach was criticised by hundreds of scientists in an open letter last Monday as opening the way to state surveillance. "We will back a decentralised architecture that will only store contacts on devices. That is good for trust," Braun told ARD public television in an interview. Although Bluetooth-based smartphone contact tracing is an untested technology and early results in countries like Singapore are modest, its development is already redefining the relationship between the state and individual. It would work by assessing the closeness and length of contact between people and, should a person test positive for Covid-19, tell recent contacts to call a doctor, get tested or self-isolate. Off the case One of the members of PEPP-PT, Germany's Fraunhofer HHI research institute, was told on Saturday that it was being taken off the project, correspondence seen by Reuters showed. "The project will be handed over and others will be able to make use of the results we have achieved so far to build a decentralised solution," Fraunhofer HHI head Thomas Wiegand said in a message to colleagues. Germany's change of tack would bring its approach into line with that taken by Apple and Alphabet's Google, which said this month they would develop new tools to support decentralised contact tracing. Importantly, Apple's iPhone would under the proposed setup only work properly with decentralised protocols such as DP-3T, which has been developed by a Swiss-led team and has been backed by Switzerland, Austria and Estonia. Health authorities are keen to get insights into the spread of infection and make use of digital contact tracing to support existing teams that work phones and knock on doors to warn those at risk. Backers of DP-3T, short for Decentralised Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, say it is still possible for users to opt in to sharing their phone number to aid contact tracing but this would be part of an app, not of the system architecture. And although using Bluetooth means the location of an infection event cannot be known to the authorities, it would still be possible for users, by opting in, to share epidemiologically useful data under a decentralised approach. DP-3T said in a statement that it is was "very happy to see that Germany is adopting a decentralised approach to contact tracing and we look forward to its next steps implementing such a technique in a privacy-preserving manner. PEPP-PT said it planned to issue a statement in due course. The Fraunhofer HHI institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters
Convalescent Plasma's Success Against COVID-19 Continues in New Study - The Wire
Convalescent plasma is one of three immune-based options that may be able to tackle COVID-19.
An artist’s impression of red blood cells flowing through a vein. Image: Narupon Promvichai/pixabay. Researchers in China have been experimenting with using blood plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 as a possible way to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, clinicians reported that convalescent plasma therapy improved the outcomes of ten patients with severe cases of COVID-19. “It’s consistent with what I’m hearing from other places,” Michael Joyner, a physiologist at Mayo Clinic who is leading a convalescent plasma clinical trial in the US and wasn’t involved in the study from China, told The Wire Science. In convalescent plasma therapy, a dose of antibody-containing plasma obtained from the blood of recovered individuals is transferred to persons with the disease in order to treat it. It’s an experimental therapy going back a hundred years, having found use to different efficacies in the treatment of the Spanish flu as well as, more recently, the 2009 H1N1 influenza, SARS and MERS viruses. Convalescent plasma could shorten the duration of a COVID-19 illness or render it less dangerous. The therapy can be administered at different stages: after exposure to a known carrier but before infection to boost immunity, and to critically and non-critically ill patients to improve their outcomes. At the moment, while researchers are exploring a number of experimental therapies and drugs, regulatory bodies have not approved any specific antiviral agents to treat COVID-19. Convalescent plasma is one of three immune-based options that may be able to tackle COVID-19 (the other two are hyperimmune serums and intravenous immunoglobulin products, which comprise antibodies against other human coronaviruses that may respond against the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well). However, convalescent plasma is easier to give even at the level of a single institution compared to the other options, which may require assistance from pharmaceutical companies. “This is the second encouraging case series in critically ill patients from China, but we definitively need phase 3 randomised controlled trials to assess the clinical benefit of convalescent plasma therapy,” Daniele Focosi, a transfusion specialist at Pisa University Hospital, Italy, who is involved in a multi-centre clinical trial for convalescent plasma and was not associated with the Chinese study, told The Wire Science. Yet another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that five patients who were receiving mechanical ventilation and were then administered convalescent plasma therapy had recovered from the disease. Compared to phase 3 clinical trials, phase 2 trials are conducted in smaller groups to check for efficacy and safety, and have already proven during “previous pandemics that convalescent plasma is safe and partially effective.” In the newest study, the researchers recruited ten patients six male, four female at three hospitals in China. At a median time of 16.5 days from the beginning of their respective infections, the patients were administered 200 ml of convalescent plasma obtained from former COVID-19 patients. In addition, all patients also received antiviral agents and supportive care. The donors were tasked with supplying plasma four days after their discharge from hospital and the collected blood product was treated to ensure the absence of any virus. The very high titres of antibodies needed for convalescent plasma therapy can only be drawn from patients that have had a bad case of the condition soon after their discharge, Focosi added. Within three days, the patients all showed robust improvements across several clinical symptoms, including cough, fever, shortness of breath and chest pain. Eight of the ten patients had been receiving some form of ventilation or oxygenation, and showed lower dependence post-transfusion. A number of immunological and other parameters also improved following transfusion. Within seven days, radiological scans showed that lung damage was reduced to different extents in the patients. Moreover, the viral load in seven patients who had had viraemia, which is the presence of virus particles in blood, was imperceptible seven days after the transfusion even as the researchers recorded high levels of antibodies. Except for one patient, who developed a facial red spot, none displayed any adverse side effects either. The team did compare their results in these 10 patients to a control group of 10 patients who had been matched for gender, age and the severity of their COVID-19 infection, but the antiviral and supportive care administered was not necessarily similar across patients or even within each of the two groups. “In this sort of brief report, all you can try to do is match the controls you have to the cases,” Joyner said. “When there are larger numbers [of participants], more extensive case control studies with better matching will be available and more insights about recovery will be available.” While all patients showed significant recovery across the board, with three even being discharged (while the remaining seven were well on their way to full recoveries), researchers agreed that more extensive randomised controlled trials are needed to assess the efficacy of the therapy, and pave its way for widespread use. Such trials could also help lock down the best dosage and time of transfusion. Currently, there are more than 20 clinical trials using convalescent plasma being conducted worldwide. Sukanya Charuchandra has written for The Scientist, Johns Hopkins Magazine and Firstpost. Her writing interests feature biology, medicine and archaeology.