Research is core to helping us achieve our vision of being a leading public university of technology recognised for our global impact. The significance of research and research impact has become even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here, we share some of the many ways our researchers are joining forces to uncover the mysteries of COVID-19, with the ultimate goal of transforming society by saving lives.
Associate Professor Olga Shimoni and Distinguished Professor Dayong Jin.
Diagnosing asymptomatic patients
Distinguished Professor Dayong Jin has spent the past decade driving the transformation of fundamental photonics science and nanomaterials into diagnostic tools for disease detection, including cancer. He and his team have chosen to shift the focus of their work to address the pandemic.
He is working with UTS colleagues, Associate Professors Majid Warkiani and Olga Shimoni (pictured above with Dayong Jin), to incorporate principal ideas developed around prostate cancer detection into designing a device to test the COVID-19 viral load of asymptomatic patients.
“As a technology developer, we know we have got to do something to join this fight.
The only way we will beat this virus is if scientists and engineers collectively utilise the knowledge and skills we possess to fight it on all fronts,” he says.
“The way we are able to quickly refocus our projects at UTS highlights the value of the platform we built on both practical research, and the power of cross discipline collaboration, always aligned to solving real-world problems.”
Dr Carmine Gentile with a 3D bio printer.
Protecting those most at risk
UTS scientists are also applying their research expertise to find new treatments to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on those most at risk from the potentially fatal disease.
While most people experience mild respiratory symptoms with COVID-19, about one in 10 people develop pneumonia and severe disease, says medical researcher Professor Phil Hansbro from the School of Life Sciences. The death rate is high for those who end up in intensive care.
“We need to target treatments to those who are most at risk of progressing to these more severe diseases,” says Professor Hansbro, who is leading a Sydney-based team undertaking high-security testing of potential treatments.
Professor Hansbro says the most severe cases of COVID-19 are marked by virally induced “hyperinflammation”, which damages the patient’s tissues as the body tries to fight off the virus.
His team of researchers is working to highlight the components of hyperinflammation, and developing and testing treatments to inhibit the hyperinflammatory response and prevent the acute respiratory distress that can follow.
Connecting the dots between cardiovascular disease and COVID-19
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is already one of the leading causes of death worldwide, but COVID-19 mortality rates have shown that people with pre-existing CVD are seven times more likely to die from COVID-19 complications.
“As so many more CVD patients died because of COVID-19 and we are one of the few groups worldwide that 3D bioprint human heart tissues using stem cells, we decided to contribute by using 3D bioprinted heart tissues to better understand how the virus affects the hearts of CVD patients and potentially develop new therapies for them,” he says.
Using public data for good
As the country turns to recovery, UTS has used its expertise in data science and analysis to develop an open access freely-available tool to help local governments in New South Wales model and quantify the social and economic impact based on COVID-19 spread and Federal and State government policies.
Distinguished Professor Fang Chen, Executive Director of UTS Data Science, says the information obtained from the tool provides valuable insights into local conditions reflecting the current situation and the potential changes.
“We’ve used publicly available data to develop a scenario planning tool which uses GIS (Geographic Information System) based analytics to demonstrate the scale of the impact of COVID-19. This is measured across local government areas, according to social and economic indicators. These indicators include business impact, COVID-19 risk, rent changes, risk for vulnerable cohorts (such as aged care and homeless), social sentiment, and mobility,” she says.