Portable hospital to vaccines: Low-cost Covid solutions from universities

A health worker collects a swab sample for Covid-19, RT-PCR test at Gandhi Nagar Containment Zone area, in Gurugram on for Covid-19, RT-PCR test at Gandhi Nagar Containment Zone area, in Gurugram on Thursday.
While the whole country is fighting the pandemic and companies are trying to find a remedy for the Covid, some of India's top educational institutions, including IITs, IISC, deemed universities, have developed a number of low-cost and effective solutions to deal with the disease. Some of the areas in which these institute are working include diagnostics & surveillance, hospital assisting devices, modeling, simulation and analysis, preprints, sanitisation and disinfection, and vaccines, among others.

IIT Delhi, for instance, has developed the world’s most affordable RT-PCR based Covid-19 diagnostic kit at a base price of Rs 399. Even after adding the RNA isolation and laboratory charges, the cost per test will be considerably lower than the kits currently available in the market. The probe-free diagnostic kit has been manufactured by Delhi NCR-based Newtech Medical Devices. IIT Delhi has given licences to 10 companies to make this diagnostic kit using the technology developed by its researchers.

Union Human Resource Development Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said that Corosure, the Covid-19 diagnostic kit developed by Indian IIT-Delhi, is a step towards Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi's vision of a self-reliant India. He said the country needs cheap and reliable testing to help control the pandemic.

"This affordable detection kit will help the country amid the ongoing crisis," he said.

Jatin Goyal, Founder, Newtech Medical Devices said using the unique technology developed by IIT Delhi and the company's expertise in reagent and kit-making, they have ensured an accurate, affordable, Make-in-India kit for the diagnosis of Sars-CoV2. It is a 'probe-free' method and reduces the testing cost without compromising on accuracy. The company hopes to churn out two million kits by next month.

IIT Madras-incubated start-up Modulus Housing has developed a portable hospital that can be installed by four people anywhere within two hours. 

Shreeram Ravichandran, CEO, Modulus Housing said health infrastructure is crucial in fighting any pandemic. With a contagious disease such as Covid-19, it is essential to have smart health infrastructure to screen, contain and treat people. Unlike urban areas, where there is plenty of existing infrastructure that can be converted to hospitals, rural areas do not have a lot of infrastructure. It is difficult to construct buildings from scratch as the requirement is immediate. As the rural population density is relatively low, more micro hospitals are a great help in tackling Covid-19 cases.

Modulus is working on a dual design that would enable the portable hospital units to be rapidly launched as isolation wards. Post-Covid-19, these can be transformed into micro-hospitals/clinics in Rural India where the medical infrastructure needs to be augmented, Ravichandran said.

The cost is Rs 14-15 lakh per MediCAB Unit with installation and set-up on site. The institute has collaborated with a government hospital for design & rapid construction of a modular ‘Doffing Unit’ for safe removal of PPE. A single unit costs about Rs 4 lakh. including transport to Chennai. The cost will reduce if multiple units are made, or large-scale production is required. 

IIT Graduate T E S Madhavan has developed a steam disinfection unit based on natural oils. The pressurised disinfection unit uses steam saturated with natural extract on humans to prevent community spread, and to weaken the coronavirus. The unit replaces the existing use of NaClO (Sodium Hypochlorite), Dettol, Lysol and other disinfectants, said Madhavan. A person entering this unit for about 30 seconds would get disinfected from head to toe.

IIT Hyderabad has developed an AI-powered, low-cost point-of-care Covid testing kit. Each test costs around Rs 600 at the moment. However, mass production will help reduce its cost to about Rs 350 per test.

Students and researchers at IIT Mandi have developed indigenous technology for high-efficiency face masks from waste PET bottles, a UV-C disinfection box, a foot-operated hand sanitiser dispenser to minimise the risk of Covid-19, and low-cost portable ventilators.

Students and researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have developed solutions for diagnostics & surveillance, hospital assisting devices, and sanitisation and disinfection solutions. For example, a prototype of an electro-mechanical ventilator and serology assays that detect infection-specific antibodies in the serum of an individual are effective surveillance methods to understand the level of spread of infection in a population. The ventilator comes with minimum electronics and can easily interface with existing hospital infrastructure or hospital-like infrastructure for less than Rs 50,000.

Kerala-based Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) has developed a rapid antibody card, a viral transport media (VTM) kit and a viral RNA extraction kit. RGCB developed the solutions in partnership with Sperogenx Biosciences and POCT Services under the SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic umbrella.

The rapid antibody card will help study the presence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies, with 100 per cent sensitivity and 98 per cent specificity. It has the advantages of being cost-effective, sensitive and rapid. It also facilitates testing of a large number of samples at any level of clinical setting, public health centres and hospitals, which currently one of the big challenges.

The VTM kit helps preserve the viability of viruses for up to 72 hours at refrigerated temperatures.The swabs have been designed ergonomically with a pre-moulded breakpoint on their shaft. Though there are similar products available, this kit can be marketed at a price that is 30 to 35 per cent less.

Sastra University has developed a visual analytics tool to check social distancing and face mask compliance. Faculty at the institute developed high-speed AI-ML enabled Covid software using x-ray images before recommending RT-PCR test to reduce avoidable test demand.

Anand Samuel, VC, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) said they are developing a point-of-care fiber-optic biosensor device for rapid detection of Covid-19. The institute has also developed a monoclonal antibody-based diagnostic method for the specific detection of covid-19 viral antigens. A five-layered mask with a nano embedded filter having potential antimicrobial property was developed by its researchers. An instrument for testing the Masks is now being used by Geetha Manivasagam of VIT. The institute will become the second accreditated body in India for masks.


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