Uncertainty being the order of the day as the Covid 19 crisis grips people all over the world, the only respite is the calibre of humans particularly young researchers who with their tech innovation are trying to combat the pandemic. One such is the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IITG) the premier institute students, researchers collaborating with industry experts and developed about seven innovative, affordable and workable tools — drones which pray disinfectants, high quality and affordable Sterile “SPILD” VTM kits, RT-PCR kits and RNA isolation kits, low-cost incubation boxes, high grade face shields and affordable antiviral antibacterial spray-based coating for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to fight against the COVID 19.
The technical solutions offered by the IITians are simple, low cost solutions which suffices the practical issues of the health workers like the 3D printed ear guard for comfortable use of face masks. These guards are made in a free size to fit all, long-lasting and designed to give comfortable wearing experience. Meanwhile the antimicrobial spray-based coating for PPE is designed to prevent the spread of microbes once they come in contact with the coated PPE surface. The strategic association of metal nanoparticle cocktails, such as copper, silver and other active ingredients, present in the spray acts as an antimicrobial agent. This ensures limited penetration and accumulation of microbial contaminants on PPE. Thus, the coating has the potential to reduce the risk of secondary infection by limiting the transmission of the microbes.
Talking about these tech solutions, Dr Biman B Mandal, Professor, Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati, said, “Effective yet affordable technologies are the need of the hour for India. We at IITG are committed to contribute to the nation’s immediate need at this hour of COVID-19 crisis.”
Many COVID-19, patients develop respiratory failure in order to control it. A low-cost intubation box has been developed. The device functions as an aerosol obstruction box which is placed atop the patient bed on the head-side, limiting the flow of virus-laden droplets from the patient to the doctor, especially during the process of intubation. The device is inspired by the design of Dr Hsien Yung Lai, an anesthesiologist from Taiwan. It is a low-cost alternative to intubation boxes and is easier to manufacture and deliver amid the lockdown, inform the developers.
Speaking about the development, Umang Mathur, a BTech student of the Department of Bioscience & Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati, said, “We feel that it is our responsibility to contribute to this fight against a global pandemic and there could not be a better time and opportunity for IIT graduates to start building upon their world class education background and exposure, to provide solutions centred around simplicity and make India self-reliant, instead of being dependent on imported technologies especially at this time of crisis”.
The team has received assistance from the DRDO for prototyping and testing of the intubation box. The primary prototype of the design has been completed at DRDO, New Delhi, and the box is currently being reviewed in the field at major COVID-19 care centres, such as AIIMS, New Delhi. Based on the continuous feedback, the design will be further optimised for improved efficacy, before the first batch is manufactured in Gurgaon, Haryana. The students have also started a crowdfunding campaign in order to manufacture these boxes and provide them to government hospitals for free. The campaign had raised a record INR 50,000 within six hours of launching.
The other innovation includes a low-cost heat-based sanitizer trunk for disinfecting clothes, papers, leather items, belts, currency notes, wallets etc. A small sized sanitizer trunk has been developed for sanitizing the masks, wallets, currency notes etc. The cost for making this trunk was about Rs. 50/-. A 90 cm×45 cm×36 cm trunk cost around Rs. 300/-. These sanitizer trunks work on the principle of thermal heating along with some amount of ultraviolet rays. The procedure is to place the objects to be sanitized for about 15 minutes in the sanitizer trunk. The temperature of the trunk is about 85°C.
Similarly a face shield which is lightweight, approximately 25 gm was introduced. It is recyclable or reusable and autoclavable. The face shield is not porous. The IITG faculty has planned to produce 10,000 pieces of the face shield. So far, he has supplied 3,000 pieces to doctors, organisations and hospitals.
The institute in collaboration with Oasis Fabrications, has designed and developed Disinfectant Tunnel (DT). It is a full-body disinfection chamber meant to decontaminate the personnel at a time. High-pressure nozzles spray the disinfectant fluid in fine mist occupying the whole chamber; this fluid disrupts the protein structure of microorganisms on the surface, thus killing them eventually. The spraying continues for a set time of seven seconds. The operation cost is less, about Rs 2 per person and the volume of fluid sprayed in one cycle is 25 ml. The footprint of the disinfectant tunnel is 3 feet x 6 feet and can be easily installed at confined spaces. Height of the tunnel is maintained at 8 feet.This innovation can be used in hospitals, office buildings, residential societies, food markets, school, colleges, bus stands, cinema halls, malls, etc. A hands-free foot-operated hand cleaning and sanitizing system is also devised.
The next out of the box innovation is drones which sprays disinfectant in public spaces to prevent the virus. This particular technology has seen a commercial route where Marut Dronetech, founded by alumni of IITG is working with the Government of Telangana to deploy drones for public safety applications. The customised drones are spraying disinfectants where people had tested positive for COVID-19. In a given time, it is seen that drones disinfect 50 times more area than traditional methods and can keep human operators out of harm. Thus, they prove to be efficient, avoids any cross infections and stops the spread of a pandemic.
Speaking about this start-up and the way it can contribute in this situation, Prem Kumar Vislawath, Co-Founder and CEO of Marut Dronetech Private Limited, said, “Drones could be the best solution to spray disinfectants and reduce infections, monitor people movement for crowd control, emergency delivery of medicines to those quarantined and elders. The contactless, fast-paced operations will strengthen anti-COVID-19 efforts of the government.”
“The drones are fitted with a camera and speaker. These can be used by personnel to monitor places especially with high disease prevalence for crowd gathering and give appropriate instructions. It is faster than regular patrolling operations. Drones can be used to deliver medicines and other critical supplies to reduce unnecessary human contact. In a recent trial, it was observed that a drone covered a distance of 12 kms in 8 minutes, which is 80 times faster than traditional delivery. Drone delivery will enable affected households to receive medicine and supplies without risking the spread of infection,” he added.
Recently, the idea was demonstrated to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)and the Ministry of Civil Aviation. In collaboration with the Emerging Technologies wing of the Telangana government, Apollo Hospitals and World Economic Forum, Marut Drones demonstrated blood, vaccines, diagnostic medical samples and long-tail medicine. The delivery works on a hub-and-spoke model. The team gets a message on the inventory needed. After the regular pre-flight tests and checks of wind condition, audio pilot systems, GPS tracker, the package is loaded at the central hub and the drones take off. The coordinates are fed into the system and the health examiner picks up the vials at the drop-off point.
Adding another feather to the cap, IIT G “SPILD” sterile Viral Transport Media (VTM) kits, consists of a comprehensive solution specially formulated for the collection and transport of SARS-CoV-2. These kits consist of a CDC recommended and validated transport medium and one each Nasopharyngeal and Oropharyngeal specimen collection swabs. The complete package is suitable for the collection, transport, maintenance, and long-term freezer storage of viral specimens. The unique formulation of the transport medium helps in preserving the viability of viruses for up to 72 hours (at refrigerated temperatures). The swabs have been designed ergonomically with a pre-molded break point on their shaft for enabling secure sampling. These sterile “SPILD” VTM kits comply with the CDC recommended configurations for viral specimen collection for COVID-19 and are packed in user friendly individual packs. It was jointly developed with RR Animal Healthcare Ltd. with inputs from Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH)
According to the researchers, in addition to the RNA isolation kits and “SPILD” RT-PCR kits safely isolate the RNA from COVID-19 virus. The purified RNA are then converted to DNA by an enzyme reverse transcriptase, which are utilized to confirm the presence or absence of COVID-19. The large scale production of all these kits has commenced to meet the requirement of Assam and it is soon to be available across the country.
IIT G is also developing a vaccine against COVID-19, which will be a recombinant avian paramyxovirus based vector platform. The avian paramyxovirus-1 has been explored as a vaccine vector for various animals and human pathogens. The avian paramyxovirus-1 has been used to express the immunogenic protein of human pathogens such as HIV, avian influenza virus, human parainfluenza virus, SARS-CoV. Similarly, it has also been explored as a vaccine vector for animal pathogens such as infectious bursal disease virus, infectious laryngotracheitis virus, bovine herpes virus, Nipah virus etc.
Headed by Dr. Sachin Kumar, Associate Professor, Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering. The team has generated the recombinant avian paramyxovirus-1 based vaccine platform for Classical Swine Fever and Japanese encephalitis.
Informing that the role of the institute is to produce the recombinant vaccine candidate, Kumar said, “It is too early to comment on the efficacy and immunogenicity of the vaccine, however, we will be able to reveal more details about this vaccine after the results of animal studies are obtained.”
Talking about the innovations that are being developed by the Institute’s community, Dr TG Sitharam, Director, IIT Guwahati, said, “The Institute is continuously pushing the limits and thriving hard to serve the nation by developing innovative and affordable products to fight COVID-19. The Institute community and its alumni are taking up the challenge to convert this time of crisis into an opportunity to serve society and will continuously work to contribute to the masses in this time of pandemic so that vital products that are necessary for hospitals, offices, schools and colleges and private establishments to keep the population safe and secure are readily available at a reasonable cost.”
As COVID-19 continues to spread and concern continues to grow, it has taught us to mitigate the impact with such innovative solutions and create an active flow of ideas and build more innovators and entrepreneurs who can develop and launch solutions to solve problems, faster.