A new European project called VASCOVID is developing a platform that uses near-infrared light to monitor the microvascular health of Covid-19 patients.

The project will build a non-invasive, portable, real-time wireless device designed to be used in intensive care units (ICUs) to help clinicians deliver customised treatments to the sickest patients.

The organisations involved in the VASCOVID consortium are: the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) Consorci Corporació Sanitària Parc Taulí de Sabadell, Politecnico di Milano (POLIMI), and the companies HemoPhotonics, BioPixs Limited, Splendo Consulting BV and Asphalion.

ICFO professor Turgut Durduran said: “We have been working with this technology using near infrared light for over a decade in projects related to neuro-monitoring, cancer screening and others. We were able to use our experience in these applications at hospitals worldwide to rapidly adapt to the needs of the Covid-19 management and propose this new platform. We have the challenge of completing this project in a very short-time scale, but we are certain that we will achieve this goal”

The proposed device combines two bio-photonics technologies based on near-infrared light, time-resolved near-infrared spectroscopy (TR-NIRS) and diffuse correlation spectroscopy (DCS). The light is shone through the palm of the patient’s hand, travelling into their tissue and interacting with blood in the microvessels to obtain information about blood flow and oxygenation.

The device also includes an automated tourniquet to induce ischemia (restriction of blood supply) to the palm, as the response of the microvasculature to this factor is a known indicator of microvascular and endothelial health.

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The biomarkers derived from evaluating the microvascular health and endothelial function will be used to personalise the treatment plan of the patient in question. The device also provides biomarkers to evaluate heart-lung interactions, helping clinicians to carry out personalised management of ventilation strategies in order to avoid ventilator-induced lung injury, or to screen readiness to wean from the mechanical ventilator.

It is also hoped that the platform will have a wide range of ICU applications outside of Covid-19 management, such as monitoring sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome among patients.

Durduran said: “We also note that Covid-19 will be stopped with the amazing advances in vaccines, but this technology will be applicable to many patient groups at the ICUs as well as for our preparedness for future pandemics of this nature. Future-proofing healthcare is one important lesson we have learned from the pandemic.”