NUS start-ups doing good for COVID-19: Supporting the Frontliners

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Boxgreen, a graduate of NUS Enterprise’s Startup Validation Programme, giving out nutritious snack packs to healthcare staff

Over the span of a few months, the world has seen the unravelling of a global pandemic which turned the financial market on its head, sent several countries into lockdown and took the lives of many. However, amidst the crisis, we hear stories of unsung heroes who are doing their part to alleviate the dire circumstances and among them are a few start-ups that NUS is proud to call our own. From developing new test kits for the disease, donating viral sample collection devices, to making sure we stay sane being stuck at home, start-ups from NUS Enterprise’s global BLOCK71 and ICE71 networks, Graduate Research Innovation Programme (NUS GRIP), NUS Enterprise @ Singapore Science Park (NE@SSP), THE HANGAR and our NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) community have truly stepped-up in this time of need.

In the first of this three-part series, we looked at the efforts of MedTech companies working on potential treatments, bettering ways to collect and/or test for the virus, or making test kits more accessible. For this instalment, we shift our attention to the frontline staff and the companies doing their bit to support them.

Our frontliners have been working tirelessly to help manage this unprecedented outbreak, oftentimes putting their own safety at risk. As a symbol of solidarity and appreciation, many companies and start-ups have diverted resources and attention to helping these essential workers.

Helping to identify potential virus carriers

Having gone close to seven months with the virus, we know that one means of slowing its spread is to quickly identify infected persons and track their interactions. However, as some societies started to explore the idea of Global Positioning System (GPS) bracelets to track movement, people expressed concern about privacy and freedom. To address this issue, ICE71 Accelerate graduate Mimirium, a Bulgaria-based company focused on data analytics software development, has created the Mimirium Anti-Pandemic Private Tracker. This tracker is able to privately track its users without infringing on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or other such legislation. Once a potential carrier is identified, other users who were in contact with him can be identified and told via text to head over to a medical centre for testing. What is unique about this tracker is that the users’ data is secured in their own devices and can be seen only by them.

Biofourmis, a former incubatee from THE HANGAR, has agreed to help the University of Hong Kong with remotely monitoring 50 patients tested positive for the virus and 150 others under quarantine orders. Biofourmis’s Everion is a biosensor that is to be worn on the upper arm of the study’s participants for 24 hours. It collects important data like heart rate and blood oxygen levels and sends it to a cloud-based system for further analysis. One of the biggest concerns is that infected patients may only exhibit mild symptoms, and only after several days. Therefore, remote monitoring systems like Biofourmis’s Biovitals Sentinel could be the solution to faster and more accurate identification of virus carriers and by extension, allow for timely intervention.

Using AI to ease the workload of frontliners

6Estates, an NUS spin-off, is deploying AI to tackle the virus. With guidance from a team from Tsinghua University, 6Estates has successfully trained its AI assistive CT-scan diagnosis platform to effectively identify and diagnose COVID-19 symptoms in patients’ lungs. While CT-scan diagnosis for this pandemic is not new, 6Estates’ technology is able to do this in less than 10 seconds, which is 30 times faster than if it were done by an expert radiologist. As if this was not impressive enough, the average accuracy of the AI platform is a shocking 84.7%.

Joining 6Estates in utilising AI to address the pandemic is local medical start-up Bot MD. In collaboration with NUHS, the NUHS-Bot MD AI assistant enables clinicians to easily obtain hospital information through free text messages. Via the platform, medical staff can access information about their rosters, drug dosage and other necessary data that they might need for their day-to-day duties. Centralising this service on a single interface saves time for these healthcare workers who would otherwise have to search the web for protocols or make phone calls to pharmacies to obtain the relevant facts and details. While being obviously beneficial in ‘normal’ circumstances, the chatbot’s large impact was magnified given the pandemic. Even within Singapore, with the virus affecting different regions, a centralised platform to link-up healthcare professionals is key to creating a united front. NUHS has been broadcasting the latest COVID-19 directives and key protocols via the bot to be relayed to the frontliners in real-time. It is currently being used by 500 doctors, nurses and other medical staff with more coming on board.

Bot MD did not just stop there. To assist with the care of migrant workers in their dormitories, the start-up introduced SGDormBot, in partnership with NUHS. Despite efforts to isolate the workers, there are migrant workers who remain in their dorms, with some being diagnosed with or suspected to carry the virus. As medical coverage is not carried out 24/7 in these dorms, the bot fills in this gap. It does so via regular reminders through WhatsApp for the workers to monitor their vitals like body temperature and heart rate. To overcome the language barrier, these messages are broadcasted in their native tongue. If there are any abnormalities, NUHS clinicians will be immediately notified. This bot is currently used at six dormitories in Singapore.

Easing manpower constraints in medical facilities

As the number of infected COVID-19 cases skyrocket, hospitals and welfare organisations are becoming increasingly crowded and their staff over-exerted. To assist with this, former NE@SSP start-up SoundEye is sending out their smart-surveillance emergency monitoring sensors to be installed in these centres with the hopes of easing the manpower constraints.

Pre-COVID-19, queues at clinics were part and parcel of daily life. However, with the worsening of the pandemic, and with increasing numbers of people going to clinics and hospitals, social distancing is difficult to maintain. Trying to address this issue is former BLOCK71 Singapore incubatee Lucep through its VirtuaQ, a virtual queue management system. VirtuaQ allows for patients to make an appointment online at a preferred clinic and time and be notified when it is their turn. This reduces the need for nurses and patients to be physically congested in waiting or holding rooms. What’s more is that Lucep is offering VirtuaQ free of charge to small clinics, at least until the virus blows over.

Keeping the frontliners safe and comfortable

Siege Advanced Manufacturing, an additive manufacturing company from our Science Park Community, has engaged its 3D printing capabilities to create face shields to protect medical professionals from catching the virus. They have also printed several ear savers, which relieve the ears of the strain of wearing face masks for prolonged periods. They have already donated 40,000 ear savers to local beneficiaries and close to 2,300 face shields to beneficiaries in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

After a long day’s work, most of us cannot wait to get out of our office wear and into our comfortable home clothes. So, imagine the discomfort that our front liners, being cooped up in those restrictive Hazmat suits, feel. To decrease their malaise, NUS GRIP graduate TeMos, a pre-start-up team from NUS MED Physiology, has been exploring the functionality of its technology in monitoring heat stress and to assist with heat management for these healthcare workers. As for consumers, TeMoS’s in-ear sensing technology could be a potential solution for continuous surveillance of core body temperature. What better way to be safe than with 24-hour temperature testing?

Startup Validation Programme graduate Boxgreen and NOC alum start-up Foreword Coffee, have also sprung into action to help our healthcare workers. Staff at SGH and Tan Tock Seng Hospital received cups of coffee and healthy snacks to uplift their days and as a token of gratitude.

Read the other articles in this series:

For a complete list of the NUS Enterprise and NUS Industry Liaison Office start-ups fighting COVID-19, refer to our website.

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NUS Enterprise nurtures entrepreneurial talents with global mindsets, while advancing innovation and entrepreneurship at Asia’s leading university.

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