Innovative technologies to address COVID-19 funded by UC’s CITRIS

Three projects at UC Santa Cruz are among the 25 awards in the initial round of funding

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Interdisciplinary projects cover many aspects of the pandemic’s impact, from testing, treatment, and transmission to genomics and virology, policy and privacy.

The first 25 teams awarded seed funding for technology projects designed to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis, including three projects led by UCSC researchers, were announced by CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, a multicampus research institute of the University of California, headquartered at UC Berkeley.

The interdisciplinary projects cover many aspects of the pandemic’s impact, from testing, treatment, and transmission to genomics and virology, policy and privacy. Projects were funded at an average of $50,000 each, and selected with an eye towards cost, scalability, and impact. All are centered in one of four CITRIS-affiliated UC campuses: UC Berkeley, UC Davis (including UC Davis Health), UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz. Projects are designed to show research results within three to six months.

Among the awards are the following projects based at UC Santa Cruz:

Video-Assisted Clinical Care for Remote Management of COVID-19

Led by Narges Norouzi, professor of computer science and engineering at UC Santa Cruz, and Ian Julie at UC Davis, this project will demonstrate real-time analysis of video and the ability to identify clinically useful information from a live video stream to assist clinicians in the management of COVID-19 patients. The proposal includes implementation and validation of a mobile application that augments the video stream with patient information such as blood oxygen saturation level, respiratory rate, and heart rate in real-time. The researchers also plan to analyze respiration patterns and oxygen saturation levels of COVID-19 patients and build a predictive model to distinguish COVID-19 from other respiratory and flu-like illnesses.

The UCSC SARS-CoV-2 Genome Browser

Led by Maximilian Haeussler and Jim Kent at the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute, the coronavirus genome browser project will accelerate successful COVID-19 research by integrating into the UCSC Genome Browser all genetic information from existing resources related to SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Cross-referenced and easily accessible molecular-level data of many types is essential for research, but traditional government genetic databases are fragmented and relatively slow to update. The SARS-CoV-2 Genome Browser will convert, cross-reference, and make searchable molecular-level data of all types as it appears in databases and data supplements of publications, allowing users to check these against new mutations in the virus as they appear.

Creating a diagnostic testing facility from a research lab

A team of UCSC faculty led by Olena Vaske, assistant professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology, has established the UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab to perform diagnostic testing for coronavirus infections. The CLIA-certified testing facility began operating on May 1 and is currently providing coronavirus tests for the UCSC Student Health Center and Santa Cruz Community Health. With support from research staff, graduate students, software engineers, and data analysts, the team achieved a rapid progression to automation of sample processing, clinical data management, and data security for large amounts of personal data to ensure HIPAA compliance.

See the full list of 25 projects here.

Within days of the application deadline, a $1.6 million matching challenge from an anonymous donor expanded potential funding exponentially, increasing the number of projects that can be funded.

This amazing response from the research community and our generous donor will greatly accelerate the innovation, ingenuity, and public service of the University of California,” said CITRIS Director Costas Spanos, a UC Berkeley faculty member in electrical engineering and computer science. “We are immensely grateful and welcome additional partners to further expand our efforts to address the pandemic.”

We are all united in the vision that innovation can steer us not back to where we were, but to a stronger, more resilient health care system going forward,” said CITRIS Health Faculty Director Tom Nesbitt, senior advisor to UC Davis Health executive leadership and co-director of the Healthy Aging in a Digital World Initiative. Nesbitt is also a member of the University of California COVID-19 Task Force.

In addition to offering seed funding, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute has also undertaken other efforts to address the pandemic through its research thrusts and labs, from mobilizing CITRIS Health’s international networks to get PPE into the hands of U.S. clinicians to fabricating ventilator adaptors in the CITRIS Invention Lab to convert consumer-grade sleep apnea devices for clinical use. Throughout its 20-year history, CITRIS has developed technology solutions to respond to disasters — including earthquakes, wildfires, and floods — building resilience in California and beyond.

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty, researchers, and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.