Alabama State University has installed scanning machines to detect Covid-19 symptoms

Several high-tech screening stations being installed Tuesday in high-traffic areas, such as the campus food court, are designed to read a person’s temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate from 3 to 4 feet away. Another set of machines at the university can show a live video feed of people walking or standing nearby and mark a red circle on those who aren’t staying 6 feet apart.

But these devices won’t catch anyone who’s spreading the virus without symptoms. According to a July 10 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 40% of Covid-19 patients do not show symptoms.
Still, during a week when Alabama is seeing an upswing in the seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases, and the University of Alabama reported 1,200 positive cases on its campus, Alabama State University is hoping this is one more tool to help it avoid becoming the next hot spot.

So far, Quinton Ross Jr., president of Alabama State University, told CNN there are no known cases of Covid-19 on his campus. With 4,000 students and 900 faculty and staff members, the university in Montgomery is much smaller than the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where the rising cases of Covid-19 among nearly 10 times the population had prompted the mayor of Tuscaloosa to temporarily shut down all bars.

“Here at Alabama State University it’s really embracing a culture shift,” Ross said, regarding the mandatory mask mandate, and testing of all students, faculty and staff before they returned to campus.

Universities across the country are attempting a combination of mask mandates and other rules to curb the spread of the virus, even in some cases testing wastewater to detect Covid-19 in the sewage coming from particular buildings.

Ross said the installation of five thermal scanners and five social distancing rigs adds one more layer of protection to an already stringent set of campus rules and reduced capacity in any face-to-face classroom instruction.

High-tech screening stations placed in high-traffic areas are designed to read a person's temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate from 3 to 4 feet away.

Each thermal scanner costs about $20,000, and each social distancing rig costs about $10,000, according to a representative for Draganfly, the company that makes these stations. The stations at ASU are paid for through money received from the CARES Act.

While many devices can offer temperature readings, Draganfly said its screening technology allows the reading of one’s heart rate and respiratory rate, among other vital signs, from a distance of 3 to 4 feet. The technology measures blood volume changes, like when a person blushes. The change in certain colors can be used to time one’s heartbeat. The technology also measures shoulder motion to see when someone inhales or exhales to detect respiratory rates.

If someone exhibits symptoms similar to those of Covid-19, the person is then taken aside for further evaluation to see if he or she need to be re-tested for coronavirus.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told CNN the presence of high-tech screening stations is more a show of force than something that can single-handedly make a significant difference in detecting Covid-19.

“There are a lot of companies that are trying to market some of these products that I think go really above and beyond what actually has value, when it probably is the simple, cheap stuff that probably has the most value,” Adlaja said.

He said an iPad to screen for a person’s temperature, paired with questions about their symptoms, can be just as effective in detecting someone with Covid-19 symptoms.

But one positive side effect of the screening stations might be in changing people’s behavior.

“It may have this kind of other benefit, in which people … who might be having mild symptoms, who otherwise would still try to go about their activities in daily life or go to work, they may be less likely to do that knowing they may face some kind of screening,” he said.

Still, Adlaja said there could be a false sense of confidence if people pass the screening. Many people experiencing mild or no symptoms can still spread the virus.

Cameron Chell, the CEO of Draganfly, said he compares the solutions to Covid-19 to Swiss cheese. Each layer may have its holes, but he says these stations are an added layer of protection.

“The other option is to is to do nothing or, you know, to rely on testing every single person all the time, which isn’t necessarily an effective solution either,” Chell said.

Ninety-one percent of the ASU student body is African American, a point that State Sen. Bobby Singleton said highlights the need for the installation of the screening stations.

“In some of these rural areas, and even around Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, there’s a high rate of obesity, there’s a high rate of diabetes in the African American community,” Singleton said. “Alabama State is a high-risk group. It is a high-risk area, and President Ross is making sure he and his staff are doing everything to address those high-risk students to make sure that they can stay on campus.”

Chell said Draganfly is working with dozens of schools to set up similar stations. It is also working with half a dozen clients on a drone program, similar to one that was tested in Westport, Connecticut, in April. That pilot program quickly ended when critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, cited privacy concerns.

The stations set up at Alabama State screen only those who give their consent. Draganfly said it does not collect their personal information, but daily statistics are sent to the university.

“I consider myself ‘Big Brother’ because I do want to know who is his positive or negative on this campus,” Ross said, “because that drives the decisions that we make on a daily basis, and we want to make sure that our campus is safe.”

Simple blood test to detect Alzheimer's disease 20 years before symptoms show

It would be cheap and painless to roll out in stark contrast to current diagnostic methods, which are typically not used until symptoms are well advanced. Crucially the test could enable experts to track the stages of dementia, allowing earlier and more accurate diagnoses. The breakthrough came after scientists found a way to test for a raised protein in the bloodstream which distinguishes Alzheimer’s from other neurodegenerative disorders with a diagnostic accuracy of between 89 and 98 percent.

The findings were presented at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. Prof John Hardy, of University College London, said: “Over the last five years the possibility of using [blood-based tests] to aid in the diagnosis and assessment of Alzheimer’s versus other causes of dementia has improved enormously and these well-performed studies are a further step in that process – blood-based markers of disease and disease progression are now a reality and this will help with drug trial assessment and clinical practice.”

Scientists from Lund University in Sweden, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in the US, and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly were able to pick out the changes in brain proteins known as amyloid and tau which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.

Their findings were based on tests on more than 1,400 people using blood and cerebrospinal fluid, as well as imaging.

Prof Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “This research represents an exciting step towards developing a blood test that could help identify Alzheimer’s by focusing on specific subtypes of tau, one of the key proteins that becomes abnormal as part of the disease changes in the brain. The findings come from a top research group and this is an encouraging and robust development.”

Rosa Sancho of Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “Currently people only receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis once symptoms appear.

“Many of the diagnostic tools that can detect early changes are expensive, like brain scans, or invasive such as spinal fluid tests.

“A reliable blood test for Alzheimer’s would be a huge boost for dementia research, allowing scientists to test treatments at a much earlier stage which in turn could lead to a breakthrough for those living with dementia.”

Dr Fiona Carragher, of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “A cost-effective, accurate and non-invasive diagnostic test is a vital step in developing new treatments for the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today.

“Excitingly, this blood test for tau appears to not only show signs of being able to accurately distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions, but also may detect changes before symptoms even appear.”

Lead researcher Oskar Hansson, said: “This test, once verified and confirmed, opens the possibility of early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s before the dementia stage, which is very important for clinical trials evaluating therapies that might stop or slow down the disease process.”

Comment by Kate Lee

This has the potential to be a really exciting discovery, as this diagnostic test may be able to detect changes in the brain before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease appear.

Progress in developing a blood test has moved rapidly in recent years and this marks an important further step.

Currently, the brain changes that occur before symptoms appear can only be assessed by measuring proteins in spinal fluid and PET scans, which are invasive, expensive, and often hard to access.

Not only is this diagnostic test cost-effective, accurate and non-invasive, but it may also be able to reflect changes taking place in the brain.

Additionally, it’s showing signs of being able to accurately distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and other neuro-degenerative conditions.

Though currently in its early stages, it is incredibly important that this research has been carried out in a diverse population, and we’re eager to see what future research into tests like this could do to revolutionise the way we detect dementia. By 2025 there will be a million people with dementia, so we need to explore every avenue in the detection and treatment of this condition.

Despite this, the coronavirus pandemic has caused an expected 40 percent average fall in investment this year across medical research charities, which has a knock-on effect for the dementia research field.

If this research is validated, with larger and longer studies, a blood test of this nature could accelerate our ability to develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s.

This could also be a real game-changer to the family and friends of those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, allowing them time to assess plans for the future as well as treatment options.

Kate Lee is the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society



Heart health: New at-home device can detect heart problems in seven days and save lives

Consultant cardiologist Dr Iqbal Malik – who specialises in heart diseases – has launched a new, remote heart monitor that enables patients to access life-saving healthcare and testing.

Dr Malik works at OneWelbeck healthcare facility, who have championed this innovation, as medical staff worry people aren’t seeking medical attention.

“Detecting problems with our heart health early on is the key to reducing risk factors and increasing chances of survival,” said Dr Malik.

Reports have documented a decrease in the number of cardiac patients attending hospital appointments – going down from 450 in February to 250 in April.

“Lockdown has seen a reduction in hospital visits,” Dr Malik confirmed. “Most likely because people are scared to come in.”

He continued: “This means that those with medical conditions, needing regular monitoring, along with those suffering from worsening symptoms miss out on necessary care.”

Fearful of this downward trend, Dr Malik hopes The Remote Heart Rhythm Monitoring Service will save lives.

The waterproof device is posted to your home address upon request, where instructions on how to wear the device is enclosed.

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The heart monitor can identify “complete and second-degree heart blocks”, explained Dr Malik.

“Detecting these blocks are important, because people often don’t experience any noticeable symptoms until a complete heart block (the most serious type) causes a medical emergency.”

The monitor can also detect various forms of tachycardia, such as: sinus tachycardia; supra ventricular tachycardia; and ventricular tachycardia.

“Tachycardia is a heart rate that is unusually fast,” Dr Malik clarified. “The monitor helps to diagnose where in the heart the electrical signals are firing abnormally.”

He went on: “Allowing tachycardia to go on undiagnosed and untreated can lead to serious mitral valve disease, unconsciousness and even fatal heart attacks.”

This is how the heart monitor really can save lives, by promptly identifying underlying heart issues so that treatment can be sought.

The heart monitor also picks up on “ectopic rhythms in the form of supraventricular ectopic rhythms and ventricular ectopic rhythms”.

Dr Malik added: “These occur when the heart experiences extra beats. Often, these can be benign if people are consuming caffeine, energy drinks or alcohol.

“But where symptoms are prolonged or where there are no discernible triggers, it can be the sign of something much more serious, for example, heart disease.”

He commented that the monitor “helps to locate where the ectopic rhythms are located, so the best form of treatment can be determined”.

The wearable life-saving technology is very small and discrete, so that no one will know you’re wearing it unless you tell them.

Should the report show any heart troubles, online consultations with cardiologists are available.



Oral cancer: Do you have symptoms? New technology could detect disease at an early stage

Oral cancer is more prevalent in adults over the age of 55, and tends to affect more men than women. Yet, early detection most likely results in a cure.

In partnership with Zilico Ltd, the University of Sheffield is developing a pain-free, non-invasive and instantaneous method to detect oral cancer.

The research collaboration has been awarded one million pounds in funding from SBRI Healthcare – an NHS England initiative.

Dr Keith Hunter, Professor of Head and Neck Pathology, at the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry said: “Mouth cancer is on the increase in the UK and globally.

“We need new tools to be able to diagnose it earlier, as the survival rate for oral cancer patients depends on how early the disease is diagnosed and treated.”

The hope is that doctors will be able to detect oral cancer much sooner, reducing the need for patients to have invasive biopsies.

This would expand to more positive outcomes, as less people would have to wait anxiously to get their biopsy results.

And, should oral cancer be detected at the doctor’s office, treatment can begin more quickly.

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“This could reduce the need for biopsies where there is no disease indicated – helping us to reduce patient anxiety and improve patient comfort.”

Prior research from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals demonstrated how EIS technology can differentiate between normal, precancerous and cancerous tissue according to its electrical properties.

This piece of research involved 47 patients who were recruited from the Charles Clifford Dental Hospital.

As it currently stands, oral cancer can only be confirmed by a biopsy, but this new device could change that.

The prototype is currently being developed. The next steps involve assessment of the device and for it to be trialled in the NHS.

A full clinical trial is likely to take place this time next year, in summer 2021.

Jamie Healey, Lead Clinical Scientist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are delighted to see that the clinical applications of electrical impedance spectroscopy are broadening.

“[This offers] the potential for many more patients to benefit from this novel technology.”

The NHS outlined what the most common symptoms of mouth cancer are, which include sore mouth ulcers that don’t heal within several weeks.

There may be unexplained, persistent lumps in the mouth or lymph nodes that don’t go away.

And other symptoms include unintentional weight loss, bleeding or numbness in the mouth, or difficulty moving your jaw.

Some people may experience pain or difficulty swallowing (called dysphagia). Mouth cancer doesn’t usually cause any noticeable symptoms during the earliest stage.