New COVID-19 Test Identifies Asymptomatic Carriers

New COVID-19 Test Identifies Asymptomatic Carriers

Ben-Gurion University researchers have developed an algorithm-based test that can speed COVID-19 testing eightfold and help identify asymptomatic carriers.

The testing system is based on the method of pooling, taking samples of several individuals at once. For 384 individuals, only 48 tests are required (one per every eight individuals), reducing the cost, time and quantity of testing kits required.

Each individual’s sample becomes part of six different pools. If the results come out negative, everyone in the pool could be declared healthy.

Dr. Tomer Hertz

 

The method has already proven extremely successful in its first tests and clinical trials are now underway at Soroka University Medical Center.

Dr. Tomer Hertz from BGU’s Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics explains that special liquid dispensing robots are entrusted with generating the pools.

“In order to generate the pools you need to basically mix together different sets of samples, which is an error-prone job best done by robots. The mixing is done in a way that once you receive the results from the pool, you already know which individuals are infected.”

Preparing the pools originally required about five hours, but the time is reduced to        one hour by using more advanced robots. After the pools are prepared, they are            tested by diagnostics laboratories just like with normal samples.

 

 

Prof. Angel Porgador, deputy vice president
and dean of R&D and head of
BGU’s Coronavirus Task Force

Moreover, because the sample of each person is tested six times, it is more effective regarding the problem of false positives or false negatives, which are often generated by mistakes or contaminations of the samples, explains Prof. Angel Porgador, also from BGU’s Shraga Segal Department and the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev.

“The number of tests required, in this case one of every eight people, and therefore the reduction in cost, depends on the carrier rate that it is aimed for. If the carrier rate gets lower, we can aim for a 24-fold reduction in cost, if it gets higher again in case of a new wave of infection, it could become only two-fold,” Porgador explains.

Prof. Porgador is the coordinator of the BGU Coronavirus Response Effort, under whose auspices the project was started.

Experiments performed on the samples already tested by the Soroka University Medical Center laboratory gave the method a 100% success rate in detecting virus carriers.

Read more in The Jerusalem Post >>


BGU Virtual Open House

BGU’s Virtual Board of Governors Meeting on May 17, 2020.

 

Earlier this week, BGU held a one-of-a-kind Board of Governors Meeting online, through Zoom. It was a moving event, with nearly 300 people from around the world coming together to celebrate the University. Enjoy some select videos from the event.

 

Opening Remarks: President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_PuOyo9Qvg

 

Speaking of BGU—Video Project

​As we celebrate BGU's 50th Anniversary, we asked five pairs of people whose lives are closely intertwined with the University to reflect on its remarkable history and their relationship with the University, then and now​

https://in.bgu.ac.il/en/speaking-of/Pages/default.aspx

 

To view more videos from the Virtual Board of Governors Meeting, click here:

https://in.bgu.ac.il/en/Board/Pages/Movies.aspx


BGU Finds a Way to Stop Cow Farts

BGU Finds a Way to Stop Cow Farts

Green Prophet — Prof. Itzik Mizrahi, of BGU’s Department of Life Sciences and a member of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN), has found a way to successfully manipulate a cow’s microbiome for the first time.

Prof. Itzik Mizrahi

Prof. Mizrahi has investigated the microbiome of cows, fish and other species to prepare us for a world shaped by climate change.

“Now that we know we can influence the microbiome development, we can use this knowledge to modulate microbiome composition to lower the environmental impact of cows on our planet by guiding them to our desired outcomes,” says Prof. Mizrahi.

By learning to control the microbiome, Prof. Mizrahi can prevent cows from emitting methane, one of the most serious greenhouse gases. Reducing methane emissions from cows can effectively reduce global warming.

Prof. Mizrahi’s three-year experiment studied a group of 50 cows, that were then divided into two groups. One group gave birth naturally, and the other gave birth through cesarean section.

That difference was enough to change the development and composition of the microbiome of the cows from each group.

Together with a research team at UCLA headed by Prof. Eran Halperin, Prof. Mizrahi’s findings enabled the development of an algorithm to predict how the microbiomes evolve over time.

Read more on Green Prophet >>


One Minute Test Developed at BGU

BGU Develops COVID-19 60-Second Test

FOX News — FOX News recently visited BGU to interview Prof. Gabby Sarusi.  He developed a one-minute electro-optical test using breath samples that will identify both asymptomatic and affected carriers of the COVID-19 virus in under one minute with greater than 90% accuracy.

Prof. Gabby Sarusi

Each test kit will cost approximately $50, which is far less costly than standard, laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. It does not require a lab environment so it can be deployed at critical locations such as airports, border crossings, stadiums, and other environments, as well as healthcare facilities where rapid testing is required.

Initial clinical trials completed with the Israel Defense Ministry on more than 150 Israelis had a better than 90% success rate. The ongoing trials will compare samples from COVID-19 patients with samples of patients with other diseases to detect the presence as well as the specific stage of COVID-19 infection.

“Right from the beginning of the trials, we received statistically significant results in line with our simulations and actual PCR tests that were conducted in parallel,” says Prof. Sarusi, deputy head of research at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a faculty member of the Electro-Optical Engineering Unit at BGU. “We are now validating the robustness of the test and preparing to submit for FDA accelerated approval.”

The test could be available in a matter of weeks.

The new test is just one of more than 70 initiatives underway as part of the BGU COVID-19 Response Effort.  These each require financial support, and AABGU has announced its commitment to raise emergency funds, enabling BGU to participate fully in the world’s efforts at mitigation and containment.

 


BGU Coronavirus Response Task Force Project Highlights

BGU Coronavirus Response Task Force Project Highlights

In these uncertain times, take heart in the research by the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Coronavirus Task Force.

Here are the Project Descriptions and Updates for May 2020.

 


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COVID-19 from a Life Science Perspective

Expertise from: Dept. of Computer Science; National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN); and the Shraga Segal Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology

Additional Participation: Soroka Medical Center; Open University of Israel

Goal: Improved and efficient test focusing on asymptomatic carriers.

Innovation Aspects:  Combinatorial pooling based on a specially developed algorithm; Liquid dispensing robot for high-speed processing.

Description: The method being developed features combinatorial pooling: every test checks samples from several individuals at once. The tests are run multiple times in different combinations. In fact, each individual’s sample becomes part of six different pools. A new advanced liquid dispensing robot has been incorporated to both eliminate human error in creating the pools, to accelerate the process.

Milestones Achieved: Methodology finalized and experimentally validated and an ongoing clinical study at the Soroka Medical Center is underway. A patent application has been submitted, and discussions with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Ministry of Health officials were initiated.

Project Potential: Achieving an 8-fold cost saving with added benefits of a faster test-to-result process with a negligible rate of false positives / false negatives.

Including Traces of COVID-19 in Urban Sewage Systems

 

Expertise from: Dept. of Biotechnology Engineering; Dept. of Industrial Engineering and Management; and the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR).

Additional Participation: Sheba Medical Center; Technion

Goal: Surveillance and tracking of disease spread throughout geographic regions by examining wastewater and sewage for traces of COVID-19 (viral genetic material). Could be used to verify virus elimination, or alternatively, substantiate the need for more containment efforts.

Innovation Aspects: Using wastewater and sewage, and not patients, for the ongoing and constant population-based surveillance and tracking of transmission dynamics.

Description: Waterborne pathogens, including viruses, bacteria and protozoa are routinely shed into the urban water cycle via multiple sources, including leaking sewers, urban runoff, agricultural runoff, and wastewater discharges. One study found high concentrations of virus particles in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), varying from 108 to 1010 viral particles per milliliter.  This project will apply existing technologies and methodologies specifically to novel coronavirus (a.k.a. SARS-CoV-2) at selected locations in Israel.

Milestones Achieved: This method was validated using sewage samples collected from a COVID-19 isolation facility in Tel Aviv. The preliminary study provides a proof-of-concept for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in sewage, and a linear “dose-dependent” curve pivotal for surveillance from different localities in Israel, including from the Tel Aviv metropolis.

Project Potential:  Early warning system capable of detecting viral traces prior to a spike in cases of people falling ill. Early warning provides public health officials with much improved means in combatting the “silent circulation” of COVID-19 via asymptomatic carriers.

* Virome refers to the assemblage of viruses characterized by their viral nuclei acids and associated with a particular ecosystem.

Expertise from: Shraga Segal Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology

Goal: Identifying novel neutralizing antibodies against COVID-19.


Innovation Aspects: Generate a single-chain variable fragment (scFv) naïve library expressed on the surface of human cells. Leading scFv candidates will be engineered into fully humanized antibodies that will potentially mediate inhibition of viral entry in an animal infection model.

Description: The overall goal of this study is to identify novel inhibitors against COVID-19. The work plan is based on screening a diverse single-chain variable fragment (scFv) library isolated from COVID-19 patients in order to identifying novel scFv that disrupt viral entry into target cells.

Milestones Achieved: Project presented to the Israeli Ministry of Health who provided partial funding for this project.

Project Potential: The identification of human neutralizing antibodies against COVID-19, a major milestone event in the development of a vaccine.

Expertise from: National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN); French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands; Dept. of Chemistry; and the Dept. of Life Sciences

Additional Participation: GenScript Biotech Company

Goal: The use of algae-based anti-viral compounds for the treatment of COVID-19.

Innovation Aspects: Exploring naturally-occurring anti-viral compounds in algae and plants as an alternative (or supplement) to traditional pharmaceutical treatments.


Description: The use of proteases cloning, purification, and quantification while establishing the proteolytic activity (the breakdown of proteins) using a cell-based Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) sensor.

Milestones Achieved: An assay has been designed and work has commenced on establishing a novel library of metabolites.

Project Potential: Edible algae and plants containing inhibitors for the two proteases can be formulated into either pills or sprays, and be used early in infection lifecycle as a prophylactic agent.

Expertise from: Dept. of Biotechnology Engineering

Goal: An initial screening system designed for large-scale testing and detection of COVID-19 across large groups of people.

Innovation Aspects: Saliva-based testing and the use of synthetic peptides for the future production of monoclonal antibodies.

Description: At peak moments in the trajectory of the virus, testing volume increases and backlog results. Initial research indicates the high probability of COVID-19 virions in human saliva. This project is designed to result in a convenient, quick, and non-invasive means of diagnostic testing. The lower accuracy of saliva-based testing is recognized, but potential for large-scale use results in efficacy as an initial screening strategy and important triage tool.


Milestones Achieved: The identification of epitope candidates was achieved.  This provides the means for raising captured monoclonal antibodies. The synthesis of synthetic peptides will commence shortly.

Project Potential: The development of a saliva-based point-of-care (POC) immunoassay for COVID-19 detection (with longer-term potential for exploiting the testing data for the purpose of producing a synthetic vaccine).

Expertise from: National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN); Dept. of Biotechnology Engineering; Faculty of Health Sciences (Immunodeficiency Research Laboratory).

Goal: Using the natural antibody response of recovered patients for the purpose of diagnostics and possible mass-immunization


Innovation Aspects: Utilizing yeast display, a method by which specific proteins are expressed on the surface of yeast-cells; cell-surface presentation of defined antigens.

Description: Individuals infected by COVID-19 generally develop effective natural immunization hallmarked by a robust antibody response. Utilizing yeast-display, a method by which specific proteins are expressed on the surface of yeast-cells, will enable the researchers to develop a platform for the expression of COVID-19 antigens.

Milestones Achieved: A research team has been assembled and an agreement with the Soroka Medical Center is being finalized which will provide for serological tests and blood samples of recovered patients.

Project Potential: This project offers potential for the fast and efficient diagnosis of individuals who have natural-immunization, while providing an option for developing mass-immunization of the population.

* Antigen is a term for substance, such as an immunogen, foreign to the body, that evokes an immune response.

Expertise from: Dept. of Physiology and Cell Biology; Faculty of Health Sciences (Units for Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease); Dept. of Health Systems Management

Goal: An investigation into the role of zinc as a co-treatment modality for COVID-19, especially as concerns quinone-based drugs.

Innovation Aspects: Enhancing the interaction between hydroxychloroquine and zinc, to increase cellular zinc levels.

Description: Zinc is known to be a mineral element with a documented role in the inhibition of viral replication. This research project will investigate the potential of quinone-based drugs in serving as a carrier that can facilitate zinc permeation into the cells, thus enhancing the cells’ capacity for viral inhibition.

Milestones Achieved: In vitro analysis was launched to determine the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as a zinc ionophore in several cell lines that are most susceptible to the virus, focusing on cells that are targets for COVID-19.

Project Potential: Hydroxychloroquine is not an efficient drug against COVID-19 while zinc (which inhibits viral replication) cannot naturally penetrate the cell membrane as an anti-viral agent.  Combined treatment has the potential to allow zinc permeation into the cell and stop viral replication.

COVID-19 from a Social Science Perspective

Expertise from: The Stress, Self & Health (STREALTH) Lab; Recanati School for Community Health Professions; Dept. of Health Systems Management; Dept. of Psychology

Additional Participation: Israeli Ministry of Health; Google Health; Malone Quantitative & Statistical Services, Ltd.

Goal: An investigation into the behavior and response of the Israeli public prior to, and throughout, the COVID-19 crisis using an interdisciplinary approach and team.

Innovation Aspects: The use of an interdisciplinary approach and team.

Description: The use of weekly assessments (incorporating a true-baseline) to accurately gauge the general anxiety level of the Israeli public, with specific findings for both younger (aged 18 -30 years old) and older (60+ years old) cohorts.

Milestones Achieved: Significant data collection and detailed data analysis evidencing emotional volatility among the younger, and a more emotionally-balanced response among the older.

Project Potential: Recommendations for the Ministry of Health (applicable to other government agencies) for proactive steps designed to cultivate a positive and competent image of the Ministry resulting in the general reduction of the overall societal anxiety level, with special reassurance to those citizens prone to anxiety.

Expertise from: Dept. of Social Work; Dept. of Communication Systems Engineering

Additional Participation: Soroka Medical Center

Goal: The identification of indicators which serve as verbal manifestations resulting from mental distress, chronic fatigue, high levels of stress, depression, and pervasive anxiety.


Innovation Aspects: The use of machine learning applied to speech patterns to reveal worrisome indicators of an individual’s mental and emotional state.

Description: The project is based on the application of machine learning to the “voice markers” and speech patterns of medical staff facing heavy workload and trying conditions.  The speech of the workers will be evaluated and analyzed. Relationships between verbal and non-verbal manifestations will be examined. The project seeks to develop new methods for unobtrusive differential diagnosis, while creating innovative technologies for recognizing mental states.

Milestones Achieved: A cooperative arrangement has been finalized with the Soroka Medical Center and the participation of the corona ward has been finalized, along with the additional involvement of the Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Project Potential: The timely identification of mental and emotional distress of medical staff based on objective evaluation and analysis of speech patterns. The project seeks to ensure both the personal health of medical staff, and the resultant effectiveness of the overall healthcare delivery system.

Expertise from: Dept. of Business Administration

Additional Participation: Institute for Law and Philanthropy (Tel Aviv Univ. Law School)

Goal: Examining the effects of a pandemic on the patterns of donating money and volunteering time to non-profit organizations.

Innovation Aspects: The exploration of important social matters outside the realm of the medical and financial aspects of the global pandemic.

Description: The global pandemic has resulted in a dramatic decrease in pro-social behavior, such as donations of time and money, thus weakening the capacity of the non-profit sector which relies on this very same support.   In terms of Israel, significant reduction in both giving and volunteering were documented. Volunteering decreased by 35% as restrictions were mandated, while donations dropped by 18% (despite various appeals for support). Results showed that the effect of the coronavirus crisis was stronger than that of other public-wide events (e.g. the national elections for the Knesset, the Passover holiday).

Milestones Achieved: National weekly surveys were conducted and data was collected and analyzed. Comparative results were achieved. The project was found meritorious by the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), and partial funding was awarded (allowing continuation until October 2020).

Project Potential: A better understanding of the less visible social impacts (particularly giving and volunteering) of a pandemic, leading to ideas for mitigative measures.

Expertise from: Medical School for International Health (MSIH); Dept. of Education

Goal: The Development of an on-line education program (with special culturally-informed characteristics) to make health professionals more sensitive to individuals from different ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds.


Innovation Aspects: Customized training for health professionals in recognition of the cultural differences of the sub-population groups they treat. (The on-line training program will be based on extensive input from both medical professionals and the relevant population groups: Bedouin, Arabs, Druze, Ethiopian immigrants, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and ultra-orthodox Jews.)

Description: The project is based on receiving input from health professionals on the one hand, and ethnic minority groups on the other hand.  The goals is increased sensitivity on the part of health professionals to individuals from different ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. The underlying premise is that increased “social competence” will lead to increase professional competence: the health professional will engender the trust and cooperation of the patient being treated (and by extension, his/her family).   The project will culminate with a randomized, controlled study to ascertain the level of efficacy of the intervention program.

Milestones Achieved: Interviews with professionals were held, and the research team contacted academic and health organizations, with most agreeing to incorporate an intervention program in their work practice. This program will be formalized as an on-line unit within the near future.

Project Potential: Increased social competence, and therefore increased and improved professional capabilities, of medical staff in treating different ethnic, cultural, and racial population sub-groups (often considered to be the source of “hot spots” in the outbreak of COVID-19).

Expertise from: Dept. of Multidisciplinary Studies; The Conflict Management & Resolution Program; Dept. of Public Policy and Administration

Goal: Direct questioning of ultra-orthodox and Arab communities as to how to customize the communication and messaging of health guidelines for increased effectiveness and compliance on their part.

Innovation Aspects: The use of a diverse and “culturally compatible” research team for work with Bedouin, Arab, and ultra-orthodox Jewish communities.

Description: Pilot surveys were conducted in ultra-orthodox Jewish and Arab communities to accurately ascertain key parameters for effective communication: 1) authority figure (e.g. government official, health expert, religious leader, etc.); 2) nature of the health message (e.g. risk to self, risk to relatives, widespread disease among the community, etc.) 3) mode of communication (e.g. television, radio, social media, preferred language, etc.).

Milestones Achieved: Pilot surveys were conducted and definitive findings were achieved.  For the ultra-orthodox: authority figure should be a “combined model” of religious leader together with medical expert; megaphones should be used to broadcast instructions in the confines of the community; Yiddish should be the language of the guidelines; and the risk of endangering the elderly population should be heavily emphasized. For the Arab community: authority figure should be an expert in infectious disease; the family physician should further endorse the guidelines; television should be used, but with Arabic subtitles; and the heightened risk to elders should be stressed.

Project Potential: Recommendations for the Ministry of Health for culturally-appropriate and value-based messaging to result in significantly increased compliance with health guidelines.

Expertise from: Dept. of Health Systems Management; Dept. of Software and Information Systems Engineering

Goal: Social networks provide a rich source of raw data which can be mined and utilized to infer levels of compliance with social distancing guidelines as issued by the government and health authorities.

Innovation Aspects: The use of social networks ostensibly serving social purposes (Tweets on Twitter; hashtags on Instagram, etc.) to analyze change in behavior in terms of social distancing.

Description: The project is based on mining data from social networks (Tweets on Twitter, posts on Instagram) by making use of relevant keywords: COVID-19; corona; nCoV2; virus; etc. The overall number of posts will be analyzed and compared. Analysis will also include images, text, hashtags, and comments. Face detection will be utilized to infer social distancing.

Milestones Achieved: Initial findings from Israel, based on studying face and object detection in images, revealed a decrease in the overall number of posts on social networks dating from the second/third week of March 2020, when social distancing guidelines were mandated by the government.  An increase in the proportion of images containing indoor objects suggests less travel and more indoor-based activity.

Project Potential: Data from social networks can be used as a tool to monitor adherence to social distancing guidelines, and to correlate the level of adherence to the changing nature of the guidelines. 

Expertise from: Medical School for International Health (MSIH); Dept. of Software and Information Systems Engineering; School of Public Health

Goal: To understand the mutual influence of social media communication on the efforts to manage the COVID-19 crisis on the one hand, while examining the effect of the crisis on people tackling it on the “frontlines” on the other hand.

Innovation Aspects: The analysis of social media in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic to:  1) Evaluate the informational efforts of health and governmental agencies in terms of risk communication to the general public;   2)  Understand the unique personal experiences of emergency workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, thereby achieving an in-depth and multi-dimensional profile of the wellbeing of healthcare professionals (well beyond the results captured by standard performance indicators from the workplace).

Description: Modeling of the pandemic language by using text-processing methods as well as expert analysis to identify the primary keywords used by health and governmental agencies to communicate the crisis management messages to the public.

The researchers will analyze the topic distribution of both formal and informal social media communication of healthcare professionals, stressing the differences between risk communication and informal communication related to COVID-19.  They will also investigate the sentiment of healthcare personnel from social media discussions. Insights from the analysis will be validated through a series of interviews with the communication officials and healthcare workers.

Milestones Achieved: A detailed work plan including four primary stages and clearly defined objectives and milestones has been formulated and data collection has commenced.  The project will be based on: 1) Identification of Twitter accounts which will encompass healthcare organizations, health officials, and professional associations of healthcare workers;  2) Data extraction and correlation to a timeline of the COVID-19 outbreak;   3) Processing of data based on both topic analysis and sentiment analysis;  and  4) Interpretation of results focusing on: [a] messaging by government and health agencies and public reaction to same;  [b] wellbeing and sentiment of healthcare professionals via language used and distress signals present.

Project Potential: Understanding and insights gained from this research can contribute to:

1)  improving the effectiveness of risk communication to the public, with the result of improved effectiveness of pandemic mitigation measures;

2) the development of appropriate support services for healthcare professionals, enabling them to better cope with their own experiences on the “frontlines,” while providing improved care for their patients despite the severe healthcare challenges.

Expertise from: The School of Public Health; Dept. of Communication Studies; Dept. of Social Work, Faculty of Health Sciences (Unit for Geriatric Care)

Additional Participation: Municipalities of Beer-Sheva and Lehavim (Social Services and Welfare Units)

Goal: Developing the (basic) computer and communication skills among the elderly to allow them the benefits of readily available services and products, particularly membership in virtual groups and communities.

Innovation Aspects: (Based on a Process of Progression):  Identify those lacking the requisite technical skills; Practical instruction in the basic skills needed; Direct assistance in having the participants join groups and communities; and Follow-up to ensure success.

Description: University students will contact the potential participants based on lists provided by the municipalities noted above.  Students will confirm: 1) willingness to participate in the project; 2) Possession of a compatible device and functioning Internet connection (e.g., computer and/or smartphone); 3) minimal ability to operate the device (i.e., the ability to turn it on and off and choose a program).  Then, each participant will be paired with a student, and together they will embark on the training process. The student will ensure adequate user skills and inclusion in appropriate on-line groups and communities.

Milestones Achieved: The project is well underway and the training phase is progressing with the original group (while expansion plans are being formulated).

Project Potential: Practical and effective remedial solutions for the elderly who were previously lonely, isolated, and incommunicado. The use of readily available platforms and services (WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, etc.) to overcome loneliness and isolation.

Expertise from: Dept. of Software and Information Systems Engineering

Additional Participation: Applied Science Communication Research Group (Technion)

Goal: This project maps the quality of Google’s online COVID-19 related search results as experienced by a global audience, and works to improve them.

Innovation Aspects: The use of recruited participants who will then use crowdsourcing platforms to execute a Google search query in a country, language, and location they choose.


Description: Participants will be asked to use a query term, in the language of their choice, that a non-expert in that country would use, and then report on various aspects of the results page. Special attention will be paid to:  the number of links to various sources (e.g. governmental, health, news, Wikipedia, etc.); the order of page elements (news on top, etc.); and whether the results appear in the language chosen for the search. Additionally, participants will evaluate the overall quality of the results, flag any issues, and suggest ways to improve the results.

Milestones Achieved: Surveys were conducted to evaluate the quality of Google search results in 39 different languages. Results show that the quality is good but not excellent.  Furthermore,      high-quality assessments tend to be linked to official sources of information (e.g. health agencies, government ministries, etc.), and are less likely to be linked to the news media.

Project Potential: In times of global pandemic, Internet searches are a primary source of information about current affairs. High-quality information can guide individuals’ behavior in a positive and effective manner contributing to overall mitigation efforts.

COVID-19 from an Engineering Perspective

Expertise from: Dept. of Environmental Engineering

Additional Participation: Soroka Medical Center

Goal: Development of a system to automatically help patients with respiratory diseases clear mucus secretions from their airways.

Innovation Aspects: The use of acoustic pulses (disintegration) and air pressure (clearing of airways).

Description: Blockages are formed both due to the virus, and containing the virus, and must be cleared for the proper functioning of the respiratory process. The technology works by introducing acoustic pulses into the airway and lungs over a low-pressure airstream. The mucus is disintegrated into pieces and then removed.

Milestones Achieved: A key component of the system was already developed in a joint initiative between BGU and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The customization of the system for adult patients with COVID-19 is underway.

Project Potential: Mucus secretions are disintegrated and cleared, and then safely stored – all in a controlled and automated procedure. Relief is provided to patients and risk is reduced for the attending medical staff.

Expertise from: Dept. of Emergency Medicine; Dept. of Industrial Engineering and Management

Goal: Development and exploitation of drone use for public health emergency and disaster scenarios, especially to: 1) offer low-risk alternatives; 2) provide relief to the highly vulnerable.

Innovation Aspects: The adaptation of drone use (until now, primarily oriented for commercial and for-profit use) for emergency scenarios and the provision of urgently needed relief.

Description: Drones are often perceived as threatening, and people (especially the elderly and those whose lifestyle is less technologically-based) are reticent to interact with them, and may even refuse to do so.  To realize the nearly unlimited potential of drones to deliver food, medicine, provide the means for remote communication, and conduct surveillance and assessment,         human-drone interactions must be carefully designed in a culturally-sensitive manner.

Milestones Achieved: A survey has been commenced which will investigate the perceptions of: 1) mainstream society; 2) the frail and elderly; 3) Bedouin in villages; and 4) ultra-orthodox Jewish communities.

Project Potential: Guidelines for the design and customization of human-drone interactions (to be further tailored to needs of specific population groups) to maximize the role and contribution of drones in emergency relief efforts.

Expertise from: Dept. of Desalination & Water Treatment

Goal: Converting advanced anti-bacterial water filtration for use against COVID-19.

Innovation Aspects: The use of laser-induced graphene (LIG), together with electrical charges.

Description: Expertise gained in LIG as an anti-bacterial agent in water filtration and water purification systems will be applied to a special anti-viral air filter for use in either personal face masks or full-scale air systems. The use of laser-induced graphene, together with electrical charges (2.5 voltage) will result in a filter material with extraordinary anti-viral (and anti-bacterial) properties – capable of deactivating 99.9% of infectious particles.

Milestones Achieved: An air simulation system has been established in the research laboratory, with preliminary testing evidencing very favorable results. The Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) provided partial support for further experimentation.

Project Potential: A new air filter material capable of deactivating 99.9% of infectious particles which can then be incorporated into personal face masks or ventilations systems for buildings and vehicles.

Expertise from: Unit for Environmental Engineering; Dept. of Mechanical Engineering; Dept. of Public Health (Epidemiology)

Goal: Enhanced capability for “virus capture” resulting in efficient air filtration.

Innovation Aspects: Particle grouping (size manipulation) to result in high-efficiency air filtration / air purification system.

Description: Air is filled with ambient particles which can potentially include the novel coronavirus.  Viral material is extremely small and is comparable to nano-particles.   A special pumping system will be developed resulting in particle grouping, or size manipulation.  The increased size of the “particle groups” will allow for their capture by air filtration systems.

Milestones Achieved: A preliminary system has been established in the research laboratory, with promising initial results. The Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) provided partial support for further experimentation. Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) have taken an interest and they agreed to explore collaborative efforts.

Project Potential: A new and efficient method for efficient virus filtration well suited for airplanes, as well as large-sized work places, and medical centers.

Expertise from: School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Unit for Electrical-Optical Engineering.

Goal: A unique combination of the advanced technical capabilities culled from physics, photonics, electrical engineering, and nanotechnology to produce a highly advanced chip which forms the basis for a coronavirus breathalyzer (see prototype below).

Innovation Aspects: The use of advanced technology (nano-gap antennas and THz spectroscopy in a specialized configuration) together with machine learning techniques to achiever near-100% accuracy.

Description: This project offers a fast and easy-to-use testing technique: the patient breathes into a breathalyzer. The capsule with the chip from the breathalyzer is removed and checked with a spectrometer to detect the presence or absence of the coronavirus.

Milestones Achieved: Methodology was experimentally validated via a clinical trial at the Sheba Medical Center. Five hundred COVID-19 infected individuals were tested and the results revealed an accuracy rate of over 93%   –   as validated by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Three specific patent applications were submitted. Discussions with various parties concerning commercialization are underway.

Project Potential: An ingenuous testing modality based on point-of-care (POC) immediate results with extremely high accuracy and low costs. The system can be deployed in hospitals, at ports of entry, or large-scale events. The device can also record and share data findings to facilitate virus tracking.

You can be a part of this exciting Coronavirus Research by donating here.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATES

BGU President Personally Oversees:

The Interdisciplinary Coronavirus Response Task Force   

March 18th 2020 

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The worldwide community is seeking ways to react to the ever-growing threat of the novel coronavirus outbreak (also referred to as COVID-19). Everyday, the news becomes more grave, while uncertainty and disruptions to everyday life become more severe.

Ben-Gurion University  feels an acute sense of responsibility beginning with its own academic community, but extending outwards to the entire Negev region, the State of Israel, and the world, guided by an unofficial motto it has always adhered to: "from the desert, for the world."

While Prof. Chamovitz stands at the helm of BGU, he is acutely aware that “Corona" has become an international crisis, disrupting the lives of individuals, families, communities, and countries worldwide.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared Corona a global pandemic. The WHO notification emphasized the fact that the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled, all within the past two weeks.

The impact and repercussions of this pandemic extend far beyond the medical and healthcare domains. Corona now affects (and impedes) all aspects of life – mental health and wellbeing, financial markets, employment, homeland security, hotel and tourism, education, transportation, and the basic functioning of society at-large.

BGU President, Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, is personally overseeing a Coronavirus Response Task Force to safeguard (to the maximum extent possible) the health, safety, and wellbeing of the entire BGU community, extending to all students, staff, faculty, campus visitors, and their families. Likewise, Prof. Chamovitz is convinced that BGU's brainpower and ingenuity can have far-reaching benefit, well beyond the confines of the campus, or even the whole of Israel.

BGU has scientific experts, accomplished researchers, and accumulated institutional expertise, which are spread across the University, housed in various departments.  The Task Force will consolidate the manifold resources the University has, and will leverage its excellent and close collaborative ties with key stakeholders from realm of public health (e.g. the Soroka Medical Center, the Israeli Ministry of Health, etc.).

The Task Force has now hosted an open forum for all BGU researchers for "promising projects and swift implementation."  Over 50 BGU researchers attended in person, and another two dozen attended via video conferencing. Ideas and ingenuity were plentiful, and many existent projects are ideally suited for repurposing, this in order to meet the varied challenges of the Corona crisis.

This is a call for you to join us in partnership, and provide financial support to the Coronavirus Response Task Force here at BGU.  Together, we can leverage the talents, inventiveness, and resourcefulness at BGU to make meaningful contributions to the worldwide campaign underway to significantly mitigate and contain "Corona" allowing life to return to normal.  

Your support and partnership is critical at this time of crisis as we seek to advance an array of  project ideas and proposed initiatives currently in the formative stages of development.

BGU is home to:

 The PREPARED Center for Emergency Response Research / Prof. Limor Aharonson-Daniel                  'PREPARED' was established in 2009 as a BGU research center with the aim to develop and foster applied research activity in the field of disaster and emergency preparedness and response.  The Center is comprehensive and interdisciplinary, and health-related emergency situations are one of its major areas of expertise.  Prof. Aharonson-Daniel is an acknowledged expert on injury epidemiology and community resilience. She is a full professor in the School of Public Health and Vice President for Global Engagement at BGU.

 

A sample of new ideas and projects:

 Identifying Antibodies and Inhibiting Viral Entry into Cells   (Prof. Angel Porgador, Dr. Tomer Hertz,

 Dr. Ran Taube, Prof. Yonat Shemer-Avni, Dr. Lior Nesher)

Top researchers in the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics in the Faculty of Health Sciences together with partners from Soroka Medical Center are collaborating in the worldwide efforts towards developing an accurate assessment of corona risk to infected individuals and efficient therapeutics.  They aim to 1.) develop a novel approach which will identify neutralizing monoclonal antibodies capable of inhibiting viral entry into target cells; 2.) develop techniques based on 'ADE' (antibody dependent enhancement) to predict the severity of COVID-19 and the resultant need for ICU treatment.  An advanced research lab has been made available to the consortium.  This research facility is restricted and controlled at all times and workers are under medical surveillance. As a result, experimentation can take place based on live SARS-CoV-2 virus samples.

 Distress, Compliance, and COVID-19 (Prof. Golan Shahar)
A team of researchers spearheaded by Prof. Golan Shahar from the Dept. of Psychology of BGU is studying the behavioral unfolding of COVID-19 in Israel. In addition to Prof. Shahar, who serves as Zlotowsky Chair of Neuropsychology and Director of Clinical Psychology at BGU, the team consists of:
Prof. Limor Aharonson-Daniel, Professor of Community Health and Vice President for International Affairs, Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, M.D., Head of the School of Public Health at BGU, Prof. David Greenberg, M.D., Head of Pediatrics at Soroka Hospital and an expert on infectious diseases, and Prof. Itamar Grotto, Vice-CEO of Israel Ministry of Health.  The team has contacted a representative sample of Jewish Israeli adults prior to the entry of COVID-19 to Israel, and is assessing them every week, focusing on their anxiety, perception of the crisis, attitudes towards the Ministry of Health, and compliance with the Ministry of Health's instructions.  Four assessments have already been conducted, and many more are planned during this unparalleled, sophisticated study. Results will inform policy makers on emotional responses of the Israeli public in the face of the ongoing medical crisis.


Risk Perception and Impacts on Tourism & Travel (Dr. Galia Fuchs and Prof. Yaniv Poria)

Dr. Galia Fuchs conducts research which examines tourism, tourist behavior, travel, and vacation consumption patterns in light of risk perception. Her work incorporates the process of forming risk perception, risk reduction strategies, rationalization, and tactics to minimize danger when visiting highly volatile destination points.  Her research is relevant to travel and tourism in times of threat, including security-related situations, natural disasters, and epidemics. Prof. Poria is researching ways in which the tourism industry can overcome major upheavals such as the coronavirus crisis, including exploring solutions to address the economic and social impact of massive employee layoffs. Both researchers are members of the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management.

An Emphasis on the Elderly (Prof. Mark Clarfield, Dr. Stav Shapira and team)

Prof. Clarfield, M.D., is an expert in care of the aged and gerontology.  He was formerly the Head of the Division of Geriatrics at the Ministry of Health, before joining the Faculty of Health Sciences (BGU) and Soroka Medical Center. Dr. Stav Shapira is on the faculty of the School of Public Health. She conducts research in the areas of preparedness and response to emergency and disaster situations.  Her focus is on vulnerable populations (e.g. the elderly, chronically ill, etc.), and she also investigates the integration of different technologies in the emergency arena. She seeks to identify resilience factors that can be used to strengthen the population and to reduce the negative impact of emergencies. With a deep concern for the elderly who are especially vulnerable, this team (with Prof. Limor Aharonson-Daniel and Dr. Paula Feder Bubis) had already begun to establish a system to identify, map, and assist elderly people in need of care in the event of a natural disaster (such as earthquake). This initiative will be repurposed for the current Coronavirus crisis, and will incorporate innovative technological applications to customize an effective system.

A 5-Minute Definitive Test:   Lab-on-a-Chip Technology for Coronavirus (Dr. Hadar Ben-Yoav)

Dr. Ben-Yoav is a member of the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering.  He works in a well-define specialty area, Lab-on-a-Chip Device Integration.  His work incorporates and integrates biology, electrochemistry, engineering, and materials science.  He has expertise in the fields of biosensors and bioelectronics.  Dr. Ben-Yoav has achieved success with Analytical Micro-Systems for Personalized Health Monitoring.  He is confident in his ability to work towards a device which will allow self-testing with definitive results – all within five minutes!  He will collaborate with medical researchers with access to, and expertise in, naturally produced antibodies.

Now Media and Healthcare Professionals' Experience During the Coronavirus Crisis (Dr. Odeya Cohen)

Dr. Odeya Cohen is a member of the faculty in the Dept. of Nursing and serves as the head of the Masters' Program in Emergency Medicine at the Faculty of Health Sciences. Her research focuses on emergency preparedness and response and on the wellbeing of medical personnel in emergencies. Her proposal is for two collaborative projects with communication experts and researchers from the Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering: (1) to crosscheck formal publications and conversions in the social media on a timeline related to crisis phases; (2) to understand the experience and difficulties of professional health teams worldwide by analyzing the narrative that is reflected in social media.

Bioinformatics and Algorithms Designed for Corona (Dr. Nir Nissim)                 

Dr. Nissim is a faculty member in the Dept. of Industrial Engineering and Management and conducts his research under the auspices of the Cyber Security Research Center at BGU.  Dr. Nissim is extremely knowledgeable in multiple facets of computers, information systems security, and machine learning. He applies his knowledge and expertise in these fields to bioinformatics and can customize computer algorithms for Corona by incorporating medical data (gender, age, blood stats, etc.) and time stamps.
Dr. Nissim will collaborate with medical researchers with access to the appropriate data sets.

 

Medical Emergency Drones (Dr. Stav Shapira, Dr. Jessica Cauchard)                 

Dr. Stav Shapira is a faculty member in the School of Public Health. She conducts research in the areas of preparedness and response to emergency and disaster situations.  Dr. Jessica Cauchard is a member of the Dept. of Industrial Engineering and Management, an expert in human-drone interaction. They are currently conducting research that focuses on integrating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, known as drones, for increasing access to emergency healthcare and delivering relief supplies such as food, water and medications to vulnerable populations during large-scale public health emergencies such as the current COVID-19 eruption. The study conducts a socially-sensitive exploration of the acceptance of medical relief drones among different vulnerable population groups in Israeli society such as older persons and ethnic minorities. Their ultimate goal is to develop effective strategies aimed to minimize exposure among at-risk populations as well as to prevent the potential deterioration of patients with chronic illness during acute events such as a viral pandemic.

Filtering Out the Virus:  The Adaptation of Membrane Science for Virus-Free Air (Dr. Chris Arnusch)

Dr. Arnusch works for the Dept. of Desalination and Water Treatment, focusing his efforts on the design of ultra-effective membranes via the development of polymer compositions. While he currently works on water purification by developing membrane with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, , he is convinced that he can concurrently work on air filters with enhanced anti-viral properties. The air filters could then be incorporated into individual face masks, building ventilation systems, and private and public vehicles (e.g. cars and buses). Dr. Arnusch will team-up with medical researchers (immunology experts) to test the air filters and their anti-viral effectiveness.

 

Additional BGU experts and contributors to the Task Force:

Clinical Microbiology and Public Health / Prof. Jacob Moran-Gilad M.D.

Prof. Moran-Gilad is a clinical microbiologist and public health specialist with broad experience in medical administration and emergency management (he is a member of the Dept. of Health Systems Management).  He has key positions with the Israeli Ministry of Health, including being a member of the National Advisory Committee for Outbreak Management.  Prof. Moran-Gilad also has unique experience in terms of multi-country disease surveillance.

 Soroka Clinical Research Center / Prof. Victor Novack M.D., Ph.D.

Prof. Novack is the founding director of Soroka Clinical Research Center, affiliated to BGU.  He is a Professor of Medicine at the Faculty of Health Sciences, an attending physician in the Division of Medicine at the Soroka Medical Center, and a Senior Scientist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School. Prof. Novack is an Associate and Statistical Editor of the European Journal of Internal Medicine.

School of Public Health / Prof. Nadav Davidovitch M.D., Ph.D.

Prof. Davidovitch is the Director of the newly established School of Public Health at BGU. His expertise encompasses both social and environmental epidemiology.   He further specializes in health policy, public health, public health ethics, and preventive measures in epidemiological scenarios.

Communication Studies / Prof. Zvi Reich

Prof. Reich is an expert on several interrelated topics in the fields of mass communication, the media, journalism, and news practices. At various times, he was an expert, external consultant for media strategies, and he advised various Israeli government ministries. He has lectured extensively and his topics include, formation patterns of news and crisis communication, and won an award for a co-authored work, "Emergency Communication Guide for Public Entities."

Health Systems Management / Prof. Avishay Goldberg

Prof. Goldberg is the Chair of the Dept. of Health Systems Management. He is also the current Director of the PREPARED Center for Emergency Response Research, and a member of the National Council for Logistics in Health Care (the Israel Ministry of Health). He is an active member of several committees dedicated to promote emergency preparedness in Israel.Medical Anthropology / Dr. Anat Rosenthal

Dr. Anat Rosenthal is a Medical Anthropologist and a member of the Dept. of Health Systems Management. Her research focuses on healthcare delivery in resource-limited environments in the developing world. She was a Fulbright Fellow at the Dept. of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she participated in a project studying the impact of polio eradication campaigns on primary healthcare services in developing countries.