The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact all over the planet, regardless of borders, thus becoming a truly global challenge. Lives have been lost, the offer of jobs has drastically decreased and people have had to adapt to a new reality. The last few months have shown us that everyone's cooperation, support, and responsibility have never been so critical as now.
Along these lines, Feevale University, a UNAI member institution located in southern Brazil, reiterated its social commitment with actual and practical measures to help with the prevention and mitigation efforts. The university performed in its Molecular Microbiology Laboratory, in just one year, a total of 46,645 COVID-19 diagnostic tests. This service has been provided to the community since late March 2020.
Today, the institution conducts tests for more than 40 municipalities, mostly in the two main regions where the university is located, for more than 350 companies in the state and also for residents of the region. The University's Director of Innovation, Daiana de Leonço Monzon, highlighted the quality of their work: “We need to contribute with this service and care for people.”
Due to the circulation of different variants of SARS-CoV-2, the etiological agent of COVID-19, and its implications for health management, Feevale University is also providing municipalities, hospitals, clinics, and laboratories with the sequencing service of positive samples for the virus. According to Professor Juliane Deise Fleck, Coordinator of the Master's Degree in Virology, sequencing is vital.
"Sequencing is a process that allows monitoring of viral evolution, identifying mutations associated with transmissibility and/or virulence, and monitoring the viral response to vaccination," the expert explained. “Based on the results, it is possible to identify the types of virus in circulation for improved monitoring and controlling transmission, vaccination, and treatment,” she illustrated.
Moreover, Feevale University is one of the participating institutions in the unCoVer project, funded by the European Union. It comprises a network of institutions that work to gather and provide access to COVID-19 data. The idea, as per the description of the project itself, "is to unify large data sets, complement research, inform public healthcare strategy and reduce the impact of future pandemics."
The project analyzes the clinical aspects of the disease. Researcher Fernando Spilki, Dean of Research, Graduate Studies, and Extension at Feevale University, said that they seek to understand how COVID-19 manifests itself in different populations, if it has variability or not, whether the disease can be classified equally around the world and whether it will remain with the same characteristics over time.
“Feevale University was a pioneer among teaching and research institutions in this part of Brazil, regarding the implementation of the SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis, when we were still recording the first cases of COVID-19 back in March 2020," he commented. “We are not only contributing to the fight against the pandemic but also forming a generation of new highly trained virologists,” the Dean added.
This is an example of what the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (UNESCO-IESALC) Director, Francesc Pedró, commented in a recent interview. “We have to realize that a good part of the solutions in the field of research, for this pandemic and for others that may come in the future, can probably be found in the laboratories of the universities,” he said.
Furthermore, Feevale University has also implemented a wide range of other measures geared to front-line workers fighting COVID-19. For instance, the manufacturing of clothing used by doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. The sets, consisting of lab coats and surgical pants, were created from fabrics with nanoparticles and antimicrobial properties.
Also, the university produced on a large scale, fabric masks, bedding such as sheets and pillowcases, and face shields. For greater effectiveness of all this equipment, the prototypes were approved by professionals working in hospitals. The face shields, in particular, were made using 3D printers. All these materials were developed by different areas across the institution.
According to Rector Cleber Prodanov, solidarity must be paramount in these difficult times. “This is a great challenge of ours, and the university cannot close itself within its walls and think only about its educational role. It must make available to the communities all its creative and productive capacity,” he affirmed, adding that the institution has been seeking to develop innovative actions to support those in need.