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Tech helps combat the COVID-19 pandemic

Biology and technology have advanced together to allow the discovery of many things that would not have been possible without the integration of the two disciplines. To introduce how technology can be used in biology, this short blog encapsulates one major piece of technology used to produce microscopic images with atomic detail and another one that has been recently adapted to help combat the pressure put on the medical sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

3D Printing - Ventilator Valves:

The 3D printing industry helped combat the novel coronavirus outbreak by aiding the medical sector. Patients with severe cases of this COVID-19 infection can sometimes require ventilators to help the patients respire. 

Due to the rapidly growing number of cases in northern Italy in the early stages of the pandemic, hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of patients being admitted and starting experiencing a shortage of ventilator valves; a key component of ventilators.With the lives of hundreds of patients at risk, the company ISINNOVA stepped up to help the hospitals using their 3D-printing technology. They were able to reverse engineer the valves and design 3D-printable ones, helping save hundreds of lives.

Cryogenic Electron Microscopes

In order to understand how and why the COVID-19 virus infects humans, sophisticated technology is utilised to aid the science research sector; thanks to science, engineering and technology. 

Due to viral particles being smaller than human cells, a regular microscope cannot be used to study them. However, cryogenic electron microscopes allow imaging of such particles. These microscopes work by focusing a beam of electrons at a cryogenically frozen sample. Based on the scattering and interaction of the electrons with the sample, multiple images are produced at different orientations. These images are then processed to produce a coherent image with atomic and molecular detail.



Image shows the primary protein structure of the S spike on the 2019-nCoV virus, which aids host infection.

Image from: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6483/1260


Using this technology combined with many other techniques, scientists have been able to image the COVID-19 viral particles’ interaction with human cells and analyse how/why they infect human cells. This is because viruses have specific surface proteins which are only able to bind to their specific ligands (partners). With the knowledge of the proteins and ligands, scientists can analyse the interaction and see how it results in the infection of the human cells; possibly resulting in a drug idea to intercept this interaction. This is one of many ways advanced technology like this can be used to aid scientific research.

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