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NCKU and Southeast Asia countries hubs fight COVID-19 with technology innovations

May 28, 2020

      COVID-19 pandemic has hit the whole globe late last year. People are faced with severe challenges in their health, life and societies. This unprecedented moment is regarded as an ordeal for all governments, and a spur for most countries to tremendously dedicate to advance related biotechnology and medical epidemic preventions. It encourages utilization and market growth of  medical technology and devices such as PPE (personal protective equipment), rapid testing kits, diagnosis & monitoring devices, telemedicine and preventive healthcare. National Cheng Kung University(NCKU), one of healthcare frontlines and top universities in Southern Taiwan, fight against the new coronavirus with Taiwan government and the world by integrating resources shortly and harnessing its capacity of science research and clinical experiences.          

    “Medical technology is the result of combining clinical experiences, technology development, public policy and global trends.” said Dr. Ming-Long Yeh, director of Medical Device Innovation Center (MDIC), NCKU. MDIC, an engine for promoting medical device innovation of Asia Pacific, has long dedicated to R&D, international partnerships and field testing of medical devices. On 28 May,  MDIC organized “ NCKU x UM x UMP x MU International Seminar: Innovations for Fighting COVID-19,” an online meeting with its Southeast Asia countries research partners for exchanging different perspectives and ideas of innovative medical devices and new technology applications against COVID-19.    

    Dr. Fong-Chin Su, Executive Vice President of NCKU gave a long-term insight into anti-coronavirus technologies: “The epidemic has lasted more than four months, which forced the whole world to reconceive the roles and positions of technology in our lives.” Responding to the society’s needs by taking advantages of its research and technology capabilities, NCKU and NCKU hospital soon adopted smart technologies in epidemic control and prevention while the Taiwan government announced Taiwan’s first virus case in January. That took effects to eliminate required human resources, diagnosis difficulties and infection risk, winning the only honor from Taiwan in COVID-19 Global Hackathon. NCKU also spanned medicine, architecture, and engineering to create a prototype of quarantine hospital for COVID-19 treatments, sharing its design manual available for the whole world to download.

    This online meeting formed a discussion forum participated by NCKU and its overseas hub partner universities ─ University of Malaya(UM), University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh city(UMP), and Mahidol University(MU). The forum provided insights into the capabilities against COVID-19 and technology development in Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. Grant and Innovation Center(GIC), UMP promoted frugal innovations to their medical students and proposed making simplified ventilators by using disposable masks and 3D printed valves. MU public health scholar introduced how Thailand government, hospitals, research institutions and citizens take strategic actions against coronavirus.   Nanotechnology and Catalysis Research expert from University of Malaya shared how modified nano-coating technology can prevent the virus.

    As for NCKU, Dr. Che-Wei Lin and his team from department of biomedical engineering is excellent in analyzing biomedical signals using Artificial Intelligence. They developed technology to detect respiratory infectious disease using E-nose and artificial intelligence algorithms. They also developed  contactless vital sign sensor using mmWave technology, which is used to monitor infection disease patients and require less healthcare human resource. 

    In Department of Emergency Medicine of NCKU Hospital, medical staff in charge of first aid turned their challenges into innovative and useful ideas. Dr. Pin-Hui Fang, an attending physician, develop the concept of “Protection Tent,” protecting doctors from getting infected during intubation after COVID-19 patients suffer respiratory failure. It could be also used in ambulance to prevent doctors from being exposed to aerosols. Dr. Chia-Lung Kao, another attending physician, develop “Novel Full Face Nebulizer Mask” to prevent aerosol spread while inhalation therapy and decrease the infectious risk for doctors.  

    On the other hand, MDIC focuses on developing smart healthcare and innovative medical devices. Dr. Chen Hsun Weng talked about the necessity to provide immunization service now and for the future. He introduced “Infants Tiny Box,” as a protection from coronavirus  using the PVC-U pipe and a air filter. He also mentioned the difficulty of distinguishing Dengue fever and COVID-19 because they share clinical and laboratory features. As a result, he developed a 3D printing filter for plasma separation from whole blood, which can detect the COVID-19, Dengue, and EV71 for resource-poor countries. Dr. Yu-Sheng Lin and Dr. Chih-Chun Lin shared how the virus forced people to stay home longer and increase the demands for telemedicine and telecare. They proposed “Virtual Motor Assessment” and “Smart Ergometer System for Health Promotion” for tele-rehabilitation during COVID-19.

    “COVID-19 pandemic is escalating the innovation of medical devices and technology, closely combine clinical views, technologies and experiences of the whole globe.” said Dr. Chih-Hao Lin, director of Department of Emergency Medicine, NCKU Hospital. The diversified topics and perspectives shared in this online-meeting could create new collaboration possibilities and integrated into more advanced technologies and applications in the near future. 

    As most countries are embracing the hope of growing progress in fighting COVID-19, the four participating countries are recently either coping with strengthening epidemic prevention actions or relieving social restriction policies. In Malaysia, 7604 comfirmed cases and 115 death (death rate 1.51%) are reported. The lockdown policies will remain until June. In Thailand, 3054 confirmed cases and 57 death (death rate 1.81%) are reported and the government is looking forward to relaxing restrictions for business activities. In Taiwan and Vietnam, 0 confirmed cases are reported for over one month and the authorities intend to ease restriction rules gradually.          

    “International partners are seeking ways to collaborate tightly with each others than ever, enhancing the ability to tackle the unpredictable future changes.” said Dr. Hsiao-Wen Wang, Vice President for International Affairs of NCKU. NCKU remianed intensive communications with its international partners during COVID-19. Specialized website (http://covid19.ncku.edu.tw) was established to share epidemic prevention experiences and perspectives. Virtual conferences are held to discuss post-pandemic education and drug R&D with over 150 university presidents, scholars, experts, and medical professionals from over 10 countries. NCKU also fulfilled its social responsibility by launching a talent cultivation program for a resilient future.

    The purpose of this online meeting hopes to introduce Taiwan's medical and technology advantages to Southeast Asia countries leaders. Meanwhile, NCKU expect to  continue collaborations on medical device innovations with its Southeast Asia countries partners,  empowering resilience to global issues and improving human well-being.


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