Analysis of patient blood serums and simulations regarding epidemics and the economy are involved in these initiatives

Researchers from the FAPESP Shell Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI) are contributing to the fight against Covid-19 in Brazil, by coordinating projects that range from analyzing patient blood serums, in order to prevent a worsening of the disease, to simulations regarding epidemics and the economy, in order to find the optimal social distancing rate.

The first project is coordinated by researcher Claudio Augusto Oller, Deputy Director of the Physical Chemistry Program of the Research Center for Gas Innovation (RCGI). The group will examine the hypothesis that the new coronavirus induces characteristic molecular changes, which can be detected in the patients’ biological fluids (serums). It is expected that the identification of these changes will help bring early treatment to bear on the most serious cases.

The scientists will receive serum samples of Covid-19 patients from two hospitals, as well as information regarding their clinical conditions. The material will be analyzed in a laboratory through the use of mass spectrometry, in order to measure the mass of each compound present in the serums (metabolites and proteins). In the beginning, the study will be conducted with 80 patients.

“At the beginning of the infection, the organism starts fighting the virus, resulting in a series of chemical and biological reactions that produce compounds called metabolites. We will establish a statistical relation between the clinical condition of the patients and the metabolites found in the serum, in an attempt to identify who will, or will not, need to be hospitalized before their condition worsens,” Oller explains.

Optimal rate of social distancing – Researcher Emílio Carlos Nelli Silva, an expert in optimization methods and Director of the RCGI’s Engineering Program, will coordinate the Epidemic-Economy simulation. According to him, the objective of the study is to encounter the optimal rate of social distancing, so as to preserve public health and fight unemployment.

“If there is too much confinement, the economy is jeopardized and causes unemployment. But if there is insufficient confinement, the epidemic spreads and the ICUs become crowded,” Silva says. In order to achieve the objective, the project is being conducted by a multidisciplinary team. Professor Celma de Oliveira Ribeiro, who is also an RCGI researcher, is an expert in modeling economic systems and is analyzing the employment and unemployment rates via distancing rates.

“There are economic models related to investments, to GDP growth, or to reduced consumption, for example, in light of different factors. These models are resolved via engineering and mathematical modeling techniques. First, our purpose is to assess what happens in the workforce as the pandemic progresses. If unemployment increases significantly, that lessens the national income,” Professor Ribeiro states.

The analyses began about one month ago and are conducted weekly – the optimal social distancing rate varies over time, according to the spread of the disease. In order to assess the scenario of the Covid-19 epidemic, the team is assisted by Professor Américo Cunha, of the Department of Applied Mathematics of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), who is an expert in modeling epidemics. Also taking part are Professors Julio Meneghini, Scientific Director of the RCGI and an expert in numerical simulation methods, and Oswaldo Costa, an expert in Control Techniques.