Research & Innovation

Stevens Research: Responding to COVID-19

Epidemiological prediction, lung therapies, mask nanotechnology, ventilators among recent innovations

Lungs with COVID

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide, Stevens Institute of Technology researchers have accelerated focus on the challenge, designing and testing novel therapies, devices and systems to assist in disease prediction, prevention and treatment.

Ongoing and new efforts at the university include novel research in therapeutic candidate medicines; advances in mask technology and ventilator manufacture; development of artificial intelligence to predict outbreak spread; and organizational, social and behavioral analyses.

Treatment candidates, ventilators, lung regeneration

A number of Stevens’ efforts focus on treatments for those in respiratory distress, including from COVID-19.

Supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researcher Carrie Perlman is investigating sulforhodamine B (SRB) as a potential novel therapeutic candidate. While the mechanism of the compound’s action is not yet fully understood, two recent investigations by Perlman’s team found the injections appear to lower surface tension, reduce ventilation injury and improve oxygenation in model systems. The SRB injections could provide a potentially safer alternative to existing medical surfactants, which are typically administered via the trachea.

Postdoctoral researcher Alcendino Jardim-Neto, a fellow in Perlman's Lung Mechanics Laboratory, also designed and demonstrated a novel tubing circuit to connect multiple patients to single ventilators and treat each differentially. The portable system, potentially useful for field medical treatment facilities or in developing areas where comprehensive medical resources may not be available, can be built for as little as $50 or less per unit. Jardim-Neto recently described the system in the British Journal of Anaesthesia.

Stevens biomedical engineer Jinho Kim works to improve the repair and regeneration of donor lungs, 80% of which are unsuitable for transplant. Kim’s method replaces damaged lung cells with healthy epithelial cells, improving tissue function and quality. To enhance the process, Kim also devised a novel robotic bronchoscope in his laboratory. He recently co-published new insights on the challenge in Nature Medicine with colleagues from Columbia University and Vanderbilt University.

Enhanced masks, fabricated with nanotechnology

Another Stevens team works to improve mask and respirator filtration, using nanotechnology to create new materials and fabrication methods.

N95 masks are typically manufactured of polypropylene, molten in an extruder and then shaped into strands and stretched into fibers  by hot air. However, this fabrication process presents a challenging bottleneck during outbreaks: manufacturing equipment is complex, expensive and time-intensive to build, install and replace. 

Stevens vice provost Dilhan Kalyon, a materials scientist, develops nanofibrous membrane meshes that may prove more effective at protecting against viral particle transmission. His team’s novel twin-screw extrusion and electrospinning process has been demonstrated to be highly effective at engineering tissue scaffolds, implants and catalytic meshes. Antiviral materials have also been experimentally incorporated into the mesh material.

Kalyon's team is currently applying for patent protection for this process.

AI to predict outbreaks; social, behavioral analyses

Stevens researchers are responding with research on other fronts, as well:

Outbreak prediction. Computer science researcher Yue Ning builds artificial intelligence-driven methods to predict influenza-like illness outbreaks more accurately at an early stage, drawing on patterns derived from known outbreak data. The work was reported in the recent proceedings of the 29th ACM International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management; these methods can also be applied to COVID-19 outbreaks, notes Ning, as quantities of new COVID outbreak data become aggregated and made publicly available.

Behavioral analysis. Systems experts Jose Ramirez-Marquez and Carlo Lipizzi work with UNICEF to analyze domestic violence during quarantine conditions, co-publishing new research findings with the organization in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect in August.

Smartphone data analysis. Fellow systems researcher Sang-Won Bae develops artificial intelligence that can be used to analyze behaviors, diseases and quarantine conditions, using data points collected from smartphones and other devices.

Innovation, idea generation. Two COVID-focused hackathons conducted virtually by Stevens have attracted participation from leading industry and academic institutions including MIT, Harvard University, Stanford University, Facebook and Mount Sinai Hospital. The events were covered by national media, including INC.

Organizational analysis. School of Business dean Gregory Prastacos and professor Peter Dominick examine ways in which corporate responses to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic are shaped by organizational values.

Epidemiological modeling. Stevens business professor Chihoon Lee is collaborating with the University of North Carolina on an NIH-supported research project to develop epidemiological models for COVID-19 transmission dynamics.

To learn more about Stevens research in healthcare, AI and other critical areas, visit stevens.edu/research.