It is no longer breaking news that coronavirus has spread to more than 70% of the countries on planet earth. Also, we are not oblivious of the damaging impact on healthcare, economic welfare, and survival. Therefore, it behooves us to develop strategic means of limiting the propensity of the spread and to also invent mechanisms for COVID-19 detection. From a Medical Physics perspective, there are specific ways that we can contribute to enhancing the global agenda in combating the virus. Medical Physicists have a unique advantage of complementing the efforts of allied healthcare professionals by combining the knowledge of physical and biological sciences with computing skills in the areas of active research, diagnosis and therapy.
On limiting the spread: Medical Physicists can join forces with other medical practitioners to disseminate accurate information about mandatory hygienic practices. This will help to decrease the exponential spread of the pandemic situation by a significant amount. Also, due to the recent social distancing recommendation, majority will tend to gravitate towards social-media-platforms and news channels to stay abreast of information on developing trends, hence the reason why we must leverage on the media to increase the supply of accurate information to the public. The World Health Organization and allied disease control centres have established platforms where the appropriate information can be acquired and disseminated.
On a specialized level, Medical Physicists in radio-diagnostic facilities can collaborate with radiologists to develop dose-imaging protocols specific to COVID-19 patients since x-ray/CT imaging is one of the quick modalities to evaluate differential symptoms between a pneumonia patient and a COVID-19 patient. Since high temperature and respiratory anomalies are some of the current indications in persons suspected with the virus, algorithms can be developed to detect precise respiratory responses specific to COVID-19 patients using available data from either clinical statistics or CT-DICOM. Specifically, radiomics can be used to complement the efforts of qPCR and other testing kits currently in use. Radiomics extracts features from radiographic images using the principle of DCA to predict clinical outcomes, hence it can be deployed to identify respiratory signals specific to COVID-19 and distinguish between the pneumonia symptoms which have been reported to imitate the symptoms of this novel virus. In the conventional molecular testing kits, results can be obtained within few hours to 48hrs depending on the protocol used for analysis, however, in the case of radiomics, efficient protocols can be developed to establish unique features by accelerating image acquisition, segmentation and quantification, thereby ultimately improving the prediction of clinical outcomes. It is important to state that the use of artificial intelligence and computational methods are complementary efforts in detecting coronavirus disease.
Medical Physicists in active research can collaborate with virologists and radiobiologists to investigate the impact of UV and ionizing radiation on COVID-19. Due to the nature of the spike proteins that surround the viral envelop, studies can be conducted to firstly determine the response of the virus to radiation and to also ascertain if the potency of the spike proteins can be denatured. These findings may help to prevent replication and transmission of COVID-19 to mucus surfaces and ultimately to humans.
Most of the deaths associated with COVID-19 have come from patients with underlying symptoms and diseases. Precisely, a significant portion of the death cases have been reported among the elderly, largely due to failing immune systems. It is therefore imperative for Medical Physicists working in radiotherapy facilities to prepare for an unprecedented situation in the case that cancer patients might be affected. While I do not wish that cancer patients will be carriers of the virus, futuristic plans must be developed by the radiation oncology team to prioritize treatment for such cases. This will require adequate staffing, personal protective equipment , and experts’ opinions.
Lastly, the propensity of the spread is quite unusual, therefore beyond our medical physics duties, we should all strive in our humanity to observe impeccable hygiene practices and extend the courtesy to others.
Abayomi Opadele is a doctoral student at Hokkaido University, Japan and is currently involved in radiobiological studies.