News Release

Eight teams of engineers and physicians work to tackle COVID-19 related challenges

San Diego, Calif., Aug. 20,2020 -- The Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine program at UC San Diego is supporting eight COVID-19 related projects in early stages with microgrants. 

The program is a collaboration between the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute and the Institute of Engineering in Medicine launched in 2013 to bring engineers and clinicians together to develop innovative technologies and solve challenging problems in medical care.

The eight projects funded by the COVID-19 rapid response grants were:

  •  The vacuum exhausted isolation locker, or VEIL, developed in the Medically Advanced Devices Laboratory at the Jacobs School of Engineering is essentially a large bubble that goes over a patient’s head and upper body, giving a patient an oxygen-rich environment that also prevents air—and possible droplets contaminated with COVID-19—from leaving the enclosure. The enclosure extracts exhaled aerosols and droplets from COVID-19 patients, providing health care workers with a safety barrier. The device also helps reduce the need for ventilators while also providing a solution to help patients breathe without suffering the long-term health issues from a ventilator such as lung scarring.The project is led by engineering professor James Friend and Dr. Timothy Morris from the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

  • Prof. Karen Christman in the Department of Bioengineering is partnering with Dr. Mark Hepokoski to develop a treatment for Acute Respiratory Distress System, or ARDS, a life-threatening lung injury found in COVID 19 patients when fluid leaks into the lungs. Christman and her team will develop extracellular matrix-based hydrogels, which provide a scaffold for surrounding cells to grow. The goal is to create a treatment that can be delivered directly to the site of injury, where the hydrogel would recruit stem cells, treat lung inflammation and promote lung healing. The project also received $250,000 in funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. 

  • A disposable wearable for tracking the vitals of COVID-19 positive ICU patients is being developed by engineering Professor Todd Coleman and Dr. Robert Owens, director of the ICU at the Thornton Medical Center. The device aims to protect healthcare workers providing care for COVID-19 patients from exposure. The device is 3 cm by 3 cm (roughly one square inch) and can be applied with medical-grade Band-Aid like materials.

  • Nanoengineering Prof. Sheng Xu is partnering with Dr. Jinghong Li to develop a customized wearable wireless sensor for remote monitoring of COVID-19 patients. The goal is to build a sensor that can acquire the five vital signs of COVID-19 patients--temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation. The wearable would reduce exposure of healthcare workers to patients while also providing early warning signs of dangerous silent hypoxia. 

  • Bioengineers and physicians are also partnering to develop a tool to assess the risk for arrhythmia after a COVID-19 infection. This tool is important to lower mortality from cardiac arrhythmias in COVID-19 patients. In addition, the project will help reduce the risks caused by certain medications, which alter electrical activity in the heart. The team includes Professor Jeff Omens, in the Department of Bioengineering, and Professors David Krummen, Kurt Hoffmayer and Gordon Ho at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

  • Low-cost telehealth robots to improve healthcare safety and patient wellbeing are being developed by Professor Laurel Riek in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and Drs. Leslie Oyama, Alan Card, and Lesley Wilson in UC San Diego Health. The researchers will design, deploy, and evaluate a new fleet of telehealth robots to 1) Help healthcare workers provide better and safer care to patients with COVID-19, 2) Help patients connect with families remotely. The robots are made of open-source, low-cost parts, to make them accessible and affordable to hospitals worldwide. Riek and colleagues will assess the impact of the robot's use for patient visits on: the quality and safety of care, patient well-being, and healthcare worker well-being. "Ultimately this work has the potential to reduce burnout, which most substantially impacts frontline healthcare workers, particularly during the pandemic. We also expect use of the robot will improve patient well-being by reducing social isolation,” Riek says.

  • A medical electronic command center for COVID-19 crisis management is a collaboration between Drs. Sonia Ramamoorthy and Shanglei Liu and Professor Ryan Kastner and Ph.D. student Michael Barrow in the UC San Diego Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The project is designed to enhance hospital-wide communications in a crisis and help medical specialists care for more patients. Clinicians with the most acute care experience can focus on the sickest patients while having a telecommunications conduit to advise their colleagues. This way, technology can multiply expertise.

  • Electrical engineering Prof. Sujit Dey is working with a team in the Department of Psychiatry to build a personalized mental wellness platform to serve clinicians during COVID-19. The project’s goal is to prevent mental health crises in frontline healthcare providers during the pandemic. In addition to Dry, the project involves Profs. Jyoti Mishra, Steve Koh and Dhakshin Ramanathan.


Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering