How entities across QF used their strengths to respond to the pandemic
It has been one year since Qatar Foundation announced work-from-home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the pandemic disrupting life in more ways than imaginable, researchers and scientists at Qatar Foundation (QF) entities, including QF’s Research, Development and Innovation division, partner universities, as well as QF’s research funding body, immediately mobilized resources to find ways in which they could best assist the country in responding to the crisis.
Research priorities shifted, scientists took on clinical roles, medical students stepped in as volunteers, an emergency funding cycle was announced, engineers put on their innovation hats, and everyone across QF did what they could – and continue to contribute – to support the national effort against the outbreak.
We highlight ten contributions that were made by QF entities to help Qatar:
Mathematical modelling work from Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar
This QF partner university provided vital insights into the nature of the outbreak, its spread, and risk. Prof. Laith Abu-Raddad, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar (WCM-Q), has been instrumental in providing the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) with epidemiology analytics which helped shape the national response to the pandemic. He also led several nationwide studies to examine antibody prevalence in different parts of the population and the possibility of COVID-19 reinfections. Prof. Abu-Raddad generated the modeling forecasts for the impact of the COVID-19 vaccines and contributed to the development of the vaccination plan and strategies to ensure maximum impact.
Read more about Prof. Abu-Raddad’s contribution here
Qatar Biomedical Research Institute supports nationwide testing and diagnostics
When the pandemic started, QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) swiftly assessed their tools and machinery to see which could be of use in nationwide testing and diagnostics. It effectively created a threefold plan of action to aid national authorities in the COVID-19 crisis: first, the availability of reagents should they run out; second, additional equipment for testing; and third, human capacity.
With their primary objective being to increase capacity for testing, QBRI ordered and received reagents (reagents are compounds or solutions that trigger chemical reactions) that would allow them to run 2,000 – 8,000 tests per day.
They also developed an in-house RT-PCR assay (assay is the process of analyzing a substance to determine its composition or quality) for COVID-19 testing, which was eventually validated at QBRI in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC). The assay demonstrated high specificity and sensitivity, deeming it quite robust.
QBRI also transported a robotic platform to HMC to automate the extraction of the coronavirus genome, and three of their RT-PCR machines to help expedite the final stage of testing for the coronavirus.
QBRI also made an agreement with HMC to have QBRI’s researchers physically join the new COVID-19 testing laboratory at the Hamad General Hospital (HGH), and these researchers continue to work at the HGH-HMC in shifts to support the operation of the new COVID-19 testing laboratory.
Read more about QBRI’s work here
Qatar National Research Fund launches funding initiative to address COVID-19
In April 2020, QF member Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) announced a new funding initiative called the Rapid Response Call (RRC), designed to provide funding on a fast-track basis to address the challenges and opportunities presented by sudden and emergent situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The call was dedicated to providing support for projects that lead to rapid solutions based on research, development or innovation to address the challenges imposed by COVID-19 pandemic on the following sectors in Qatar.
Learn more about QNRF’s RRC project
VCUarts Qatar produces laser-cut face shields to help fight COVID-19
The Fabrication Lab, or Fab Lab Team, at QF partner university Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) worked with a group of fabricators and universities in the US to produce protective face shields, supporting efforts to keep those in the frontline of the ongoing global pandemic safe.
The face shields were also downsized so they could be used for newborns at HMC’s Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU). The idea was born out of concern for new-born babies whose mothers had tested positive for the virus. With no time to import wearable equipment, VCUarts Qatar stepped in to produce them locally. The face shields are being used by infants in the NICU’s at both HMC and the Cuban Hospital.
Dr. Mai Al-Qubaisi from NICU sums up her experience in this article
TAMUQ engineers repurpose snorkeling masks to ventilators
Inspired by a startup in Italy, engineers at another QF partner university Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) modified snorkeling masks so they could be plugged into ventilators at hospitals. Using the open source information available online, Dr. Marwan Khraisheh and Dr. Yasser Al-Hamidi of TAMUQ’s Mechanical Engineering Program led the efforts to design and develop similar versions for Qatar.
TAMUQ delivered hundreds of modified face shields to Qatar Red Crescent as well as delivered prototypes of the snorkeling mask adapters to HMC.
Read the story about TAMUQ’s contribution here
Qatar Computing Research Institute came up with intelligent tech solutions to address pandemic
The research institute developed a model that traces the movement of people based on cell phone data, which helped health authorities with contact tracing for COVID-19 positive patients, especially in the first few weeks of the pandemic, before the Ehteraz app was deployed.
They also developed an online multi-lingual self-assessment tool based on the guidelines laid out by the World Health Organization and HMC. The questionnaire helps users assess their symptoms and indicated the next steps, such as when to seek medical help. The tool proved successful and received over a million visits within the first few weeks of being online.
QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) also modeled and visualized the evolution of the pandemic, and created a dashboard that summarizes data related to the pandemic in Qatar and the GCC countries, which helps predict disease development – such as understanding hotspots. This dashboard is used by government health authorities in Qatar, and internally within Qatar Foundation.
Read all about QCRI’s support here
Robot that is a security guard by day, and a cleaner by night
Ali Al-Rashid, a PhD candidate at QF, created a robot for the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. The robot on wheels doubles as a security guard and an office cleaner. During daytime, it screens and instantly verifies the Ehteraz app status of people accessing the building. In the evenings, it silently prowls the halls and corridors of the building he is manning, using liquid disinfectant and UV light to thoroughly sanitize it.
Read about Al-Rashid’s innovative robot here
Qatar Genome Programme participates in global study to understand the role of genetic factors in COVID-19 severity
Qatar Genome Programme (QGP), part of Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation, was the first and only active participant from an Arab country in the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, a global initiative to elucidate the role of host genetic factors in the susceptibility and severity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic. Meaning – why some people become more sick than others. It contributed to the study with over 13,000 genomic results, and more importantly added diversity to the study by being the only Arab participant.
Read about QGP’s participation in the study here
Sidra Medicine develops a rapid and cheaper test for COVID-19
Sidra Medicine developed a simplified and rapid, second COVID-19 testing method. The new method uses a pre-treatment of the specimen (swab sample) to replace the ribonucleic acid (RNA) extraction process, currently needed for COVID-19 testing. By skipping the RNA extraction step and replacing it with a simple pre-treatment process, the new method will reduce the cost of the test by approximately 75 per cent and will also improve the turn-around time of the test by approximately two hours.
Before developing the second testing method, Sidra Medicine had devised an in-house approach that uses Sidra Medicine’s robotics and expertise to extract RNA from the swabs samples taken from individuals, and then test it for the presence of the virus. This was done to enhance Qatar’s COVID-19 testing capacity at a time when testing kits were in short supply globally due to demand.
Read about Sidra’s rapid testing method here
Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute conducts study to detect COVID-19 in wastewater
The environment and energy research institute led a collaborative research project to monitor Qatar’s municipal wastewater for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Their aim was to assist MOPH in determining the lifecycle of the pandemic and in understanding how it spreads. This knowledge can help ascertain and provide a level of assurance in the efficacy of the implemented control measures, as well as provide early warning in case of a resurgence of the virus.
QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) will employ a modeling approach to estimate the number of symptomatic and asymptomatic cases in the population based on the levels found in wastewater.
Read about QEERI’s efforts here