Researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology and Catharina Hospital have developed a new algorithm that can recognize COVID-19 in the blood very quickly. The software is intended for use in the ER, to quickly rule out corona in incoming patients. As a result, standard corona tests are required less often, so that healthcare can be used more efficiently. The quick scan for COVID-19 was developed within three months and is already being used by doctors at the Emergency Department of the Catharina Hospital.
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At the height of the corona pandemic, the researchers were asked if there wasn’t a faster test to rule out COVID-19. At the Emergency Department it is important to know as soon as possible whether a patient is corona positive or not. Patients can then be isolated immediately, and staff can take extra steps to protect themselves.
“From idea to implementation in three months, that’s an extreme pressure cooker.”
“We then started looking at the information we already had,” says Arjen-Kars Boer, clinical chemist at it Catharina Hospital and working as a researcher at TU / e. “For patients who come to the emergency room, blood is taken as standard for a so-called quick scan. Their blood is tested for no less than 30 different values. We wondered if there were some subtle changes in their blood that are characteristic of COVID-19. Couldn’t we find some sort of instantly recognizable barcode? And yes, that turns out to be possible. ”
To develop the algorithm, the blood values of more than 10,000 patients in the emergency room had to be digitized. That was a painstaking job in itself, says Ruben Deneer, researcher at the Biomedical Engineering faculty of the TU / e. And artificial intelligence had to be used to draw the right conclusions from that overwhelming amount of data. “Then we had to look for the smallest set of results that makes a good prediction.” Deneer has halted his PhD research for three months in order to attack this enormous amount of data with the help of algorithms. “In the end, we managed to identify ten laboratory tests in a very short time that together form the best predictors of COVID-19.”
The new tool is already being used in the Catharina Hospital, which means that doctors there can deal with care much more efficiently. Because you can immediately rule out that some of the patients are infected with COVID-19, you no longer need to take the standard PCR test for them. In addition, the new tool detects corona symptoms in the blood of people who, because they have no recognizable symptoms, are not tested for corona. They will then receive a PCR test. The researchers emphasize that the quick scan is not a replacement for the PCR test, but an extra tool.
Boer and Deneer are very happy with the quick result. “From idea to implementation in three months, that’s an extreme pressure cooker. Developing such a tool in such a short time is truly unique. This has not yet been described in the literature worldwide. ”
The next step is to see whether this algorithm can also be applied in other hospitals. That still takes some doing, because every hospital carries out different tests at the emergency room and uses different equipment for this. But according to both researchers, it is only a matter of time that other hospitals will adopt the tool.