A team of University of Arizona students is developing an application to speed the diagnosis and targeted treatment of secondary infections, such as pneumonia, for COVID-19 patients on ventilators. This patient population has a far higher mortality rate (70.5%) compared to other hospitalized COVID-19 patients (21.4%), according to a study in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Capstone Team 21015 comprises students from multiple engineering departments, including biomedical engineering students Megan Ann Johnson and Daniel Robert Wieland.
“For patients on ventilators, including many COVID-19 patients, the ability to quickly identify infections and treat them could mean the difference between life and death,” said Johnson, who is also team lead.
The app will display results from a new technology and diagnostic tool called metagenomic next generation sequencing. An evolution of traditional genetic sequencing, this process can identify microbes in the saliva of a patient, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Physicians typically rely on culture testing to target the cause of infection – a process that can take several days. Standard practice is to prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic while awaiting results, but that is a non-specific treatment that may lead to antibiotic resistance. Metagenomic next generation sequencing, however, produces test results in a matter of hours, rather than days.
Students are soliciting input from physicians as they design the app. Ideally, they envision a method by which, as soon as the results are ready, a computer or smartphone will display the amount and type of each microbe present. The physician can use this information to promptly prescribe the most effective treatment.
Team members are mastering application software, building and administering surveys, interviewing medical professionals, demonstrating the application interface, and collecting feedback on what viewing options work best. They are also learning about time management, teamwork, and how to accomplish their goal using their individual backgrounds and strengths.
The team is sponsored by the Department of Biosystems Engineering.