The world is currently in the midst of the worst pandemic of the 21st century. SARS-CoV-2 has disrupted the lives of billions of people around the world and brought entire economies to a halt. These uncertain times demand unprecedented cooperation between governments, private organizations, and civil society. Very early on, we at Acorn raised our hands and joined the fight against COVID-19. We remain committed to supporting the efforts to beat this disease and its long-term consequences.
The sudden appearance and quick spread of a new disease is something that humanity has had to face at semiregular intervals throughout history. The last time we confronted a challenge of this magnitude was more than 50 years ago, during the 1968 Pandemic (H3N2 virus). The estimated number of deaths during that pandemic was 1 million. At the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic has reached half of that number and it is still far from over.
Coming together to fight a common enemy
Unfortunately, the spread of infectious diseases on a global scale is occurring more often than before. In an increasingly integrated world, the potential for diseases to expand across borders is enormous. At the same time, crises like these often bring out the best in our societies. Different groups in government, academia, and the private sector, which had not cooperated before, have come together to create solutions against COVID-19.
The first thing that Acorn did at the onset of this crisis was to get protective equipment to the hands of frontline workers. This has proven to be vital in stopping the spread from patient to patient. We also quickly engaged with the Canadian government to lend our ISO certified lab for diagnostic testing. This effort is still ongoing.
The role of preventative healthcare in fighting pandemics
Knowledge is power. This is especially true in healthcare. While a vaccine may still be months or even years away from development and distribution at a global scale, analytics can make a difference. Data obtained through testing can help implement effective measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. It also allows for a more effective allocation of resources.
There are differences in the way individuals respond to contracting the virus depending on a number of factors, not just age. These are factors that can be analyzed in order to determine who is predisposed to develop more severe symptoms. If individuals know they have comorbidities or other issues that make them more susceptible to experiencing severe symptoms, they can plan accordingly. This means either avoiding high-risk situations or taking quicker action at the first indication of infection.
This information can be very useful for healthcare workers as well. It empowers them to direct their resources and attention to people that they know will need intensive care immediately. As a consequence, health care systems around the world can better manage the burden of infection, avoiding collapse. This is what makes the preventative and predictive element so important. At Acorn, we are developing tools to predict an individual’s response to infection and risk for severe and life-threatening symptoms. Getting ahead of infections and providing individuals with the best tools to overcome the disease has the potential to save lives.
What comes after the pandemic
Once we are past the phase of containment of the virus, we must look into the long-term implications for those who have contracted COVID-19. There have been reports of different conditions manifesting once people have recovered from the disease. TheNew York Times has reported that approximately 90 percent of patients who required ventilators develop acute kidney injury. There is also a risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome. That is where tissue engineering has an opportunity to help fight COVID-19.
At Acorn, we are also focusing on these long-term consequences. There is potential for the development of cell-based treatments to help those who are dealing with second-order implications of having COVID-19. We are working to prepare people to take advantage of these treatments by providing them with the cellular material they will need.
Managing and eventually solving this crisis will require a multifactor approach. Collaboration between different sectors has proven essential and it must continue. Building on this will allow us to react more quickly and effectively when this eventually happens again. Investing in preventative medicine and cell-based therapies will put us in a much more favorable position moving forward. We are committed to this goal.
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