Dr. Thomas R. Dietrich
Chief Executive Officer
IVAM Microtechnology Network
Apr. 22, 2020
Dr. Thomas R. Dietrich
Chief Executive Officer
IVAM Microtechnology Network

IVAM members vs. CORONA

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic the whole world has to deal with high degree challenges. We learn how fragile our economic, health and social systems are and how dependent we have become in international cooperations. But we can also see how well societies, organized in solidarity, can deal with all the problems. 

Technology is and remains a key to innovation. I am very pleased and proud that IVAM's high-tech network includes many companies and research institutions that have excellent approaches to what their technologies can contribute to solve current problems. 

Here are some examples - be assured that many more will follow.  

Microtechnology companies are able to offer support

IVAM members are currently doing everything possible to get a grip of the pandemic. Microtechnical methods play a special role here. Microtechnology enables medical technology products to be made more efficient, smaller and therefore more mobile. New production methods allow us to react quickly to challenges and to provide urgently needed products in the shortest possible time. Within a few days, IVAM companies were already presenting solutions to combat the consequences of the pandemic. We see four major areas in which short-term help was offered:

  1. Protective equipment, especially face protection and disinfection
  2. Ventilators for Covid-19 patients with severe illness
  3. Diagnosis of symptoms as well as detection of the virus itself
  4. Development of medication

Protective equipment, especially face protection and disinfection

Slowing down the rate of infection is a priority for everyone in order to minimize the number of serious illnesses and therefore not to overload the health care systems. Protective equipment such as protective suits, masks or shields were quickly sold out. Fortunately, the development of 3D printing processes has been greatly promoted in recent years. Without major set-up times or the development of masters and tools, the production of e.g. protective shields or corresponding mounts can be started:

An important point when dealing with COVID-19 patients is the observance of the highest hygiene criteria, especially constant cleaning and disinfection. Here, too, microtechnologists offer a range of products and aids:

  • The MMT GmbH has developed AIRTUNE, a device designed to improve indoor air quality. In the meantime, the disinfection of room air has been proven in further development. https://www.airtune.eu
  • A typical microtechnical component comes from Sonosys: With an ultrasonic nebulizer, disinfectants can be finely distributed and thus larger surfaces or a large number of face masks can be disinfected simultaneously. 

2. Ventilators for Covid-19 patients with severe illness

Respiratory equipment is necessary during treatment, especially in the case of severe course of Covid-19. It soon became apparent that the worldwide health care systems were not sufficiently equipped.

  • The sleep medical center of the University of Marburg has directly converted devices for sleep monitoring of breathing into ventilators. The scientists were supported in the design and production of the necessary components for conversion by 3D printing by employees of the laser manufacturer TRUMPF who have a lot of experience with 3D processes.

3. Diagnosis of symptoms and detection of the virus

As long as no medication or vaccine is available, infection rates must be kept low. In order to ensure this, fast and reliable tests are necessary. 

The first measure introduced worldwide was body temperature control. This should take place without contact with the potentially infected person if possible:

For the detection of the virus itself, biosensors, e.g. in microfluidic systems, play an important role:

  • The company Lionix has already developed photonic biosensors for the detection of viruses within a sensor platform that can also be adapted for corona. https://www.lionix-international.com 
  • Important here are so-called "point-of-care" systems, which enable measurements to be taken on site in hospitals, doctors' office and health authorities without having to wait days for results from a laboratory. One supplier for such systems is the company microLIQUID. https://microfluidics.microliquid.com/covid-update
  • Fraunhofer IZM was also involved in the development of a rapid test.
  • The company Campton Diagnostics is currently developing a corona protein test and DNA test. For this purpose, own already existing test systems have to be adapted to the requirements of the new virus. http://www.campton-diagnostics.com/
  • A group of scientists from International Iberian Nanotech Lab (INL) is working in the design of a European rapid detection test for the new coronavirus able to predict the severity of the virus in patients with the support of artificial intelligence.

4. Development of medication

The most important task, of course, remains the development of drug and vaccine. To do this, the biochemical structure of the virus must be elucidated and its effective components identified. Microfluidic lab-on-a-chip systems or the processing of smallest amounts of liquids are of utmost importance. A large number of scientists around the world are already working on the genome analysis of the virus and on sequencing methods for recognizing the relevant DNA sequences and searching for appropriate antidotes:

  • Besides the microfluidic components, other components are essential. For example, Jenoptik supplies imaging systems for DNA sequencing, in particular for the rapid and effective detection of mutations in the virus. 
  • AEMtec has many years of experience in the manufacture of electronic units for the control and data logging of sequencing systems.With the miniaturization of various modules for imaging in CTs, sequencing of virus genomes, automated liquid measurement processes and more, AEMtec is making a significant contribution to the determination and control of COVID-19.
  • Cooperation at European level also focuses on virus detection and the development of countermeasures. The EARTO project, in which partners such as CSEM from Switzerland, VTT from Finland and AIT from Austria are working together on the collection of pandemic data, the development of new test methods and on vaccines, plays a major role in this area. 

Although microtechnology companies are suffering from the effects of the pandemic, they are also the ones who can make a major contribution to combating it. Moreover, the experience gained today at COVID-19 can be incorporated into new technologies, so that we will be much better prepared for future crises of this kind. It is therefore not surprising that microtechnology companies do not expect long-term economic problems from the pandemic, according to a study by IVAM in March 2020.

IVAM wants to report regularly about new projects, products, services of our members in connection with the coronavirus. On the one hand, we want to give our members the opportunity to market their products in a time of "social distancing" without fairs and conferences. On the other hand, we want to give an interested public important information about high-tech solutions against Covid-19.

If you have products you want to report on, please contact us!