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UW Researchers Working with CoMotion to Accelerate their Innovations Addressing COVID-19

Written by Debra Bouchegnies / April 28, 2020

There is extraordinary work happening across the UW community in the fight against COVID-19. The pandemic has brought into sharp focus how important UW research is to help end this plight. For its part, CoMotion is doing all it can to help accelerate UW innovations that can aid in the fight against this virus. According to CoMotion Director, François Baneyx, over the last month, CoMotion has handled a record number of disclosures, while intellectual property filings and license negotiations have proceeded at a fast clip. In addition, our Material Transfer Agreement group is processing a high volume of requests for COVID-19 positive specimens.

Here are a few of the UW inventions that CoMotion is currently helping to fast-track.

Cough Monitoring Smartphone App

(left to right) Matt Whitehill, Doctoral student, UW; Shwetak Patel, Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor in Computer Science & Engineering an

Principal Investigator: Shwetak Patel, Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor in Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering, UW

Matt Whitehill, Doctoral student, UW

A team from the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering is creating an algorithm to track patient coughs using a smartphone. The algorithm could be used to remotely monitor self-quarantined COVID-19 patients. The team has created a smartphone app to deploy the technology and will be piloting the app with the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The researchers are currently training the app to recognize coughing sounds, so if you have a few minutes, they are looking for participants who can complete a quick 15-minute survey to collect coughs and other vocalizations.

CoMotion has been supporting the further development and testing of the device by making the team aware of programs and resources to help move them forward.  Recently, Matt presented to the Institute of Translational Health Sciences Drug and Device Advisory Committee (DDAC) who informed him of an FDA program which helps fund tools that facilitate faster drug development. Matt is also participating in several of CoMotion’s flagship programs including the Innovation Gap FundIdea to Plan training, and the WE-REACH Bootcamp.

“Because a dry cough is the most common symptom of COVID-19, we believe this app could be an invaluable tool for hospitals and clinicians to remotely monitor the health condition of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19,” said Matt Whitehill.

This research is in collaboration with Dr. Margaret Rosenfeld at Seattle Children’s Hospital; Dr. Thomas Hawn, a professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine; and Dr. David Horne, an associate professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine. It is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

See the full story on UW News. For more information, contact Matt Whitehill at

Mobile Antiviral/Antibacterial Sterilization Device

(left to right) Postdoc Mengyu Yan (MSE) and graduate student Mitchell Kaiser (Chemistry)

Principal Investigators:

Jihui Yang, Department Chair and Kyocera Chair Professor, UW Materials Science & Engineering Department

Jun Liu, Washington Research Foundation Innovation Chair in Clean Energy, Campbell Chair Professor of UW Materials Science & Engineering, Professor of Chemical Engineering

Mengyu Yan, Postdoc

Mitchell Kaiser, Chemistry

In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), Professors Jun Liu and Jihui Yang’s group in UW’s Materials Science & Engineering department are working to create solutions to minimize the spread of the disease, provide critical aid to health care workers and their patients, and ensure the safety, health and well-being of households.

The team is developing a new mobile device that can effectively and rapidly destroy viruses and bacteria on surfaces. Professor Liu says, “Many surfaces are not suitable or accessible for chemical disinfection such as clothes, sofas, papers, porous materials, fabrics, food containers, and food.  However, UV light is an effective disinfecting method, and UV lamps are commercially available.”

The team’s idea is to take advantage of the synergistic effect of chemical and physical treatment. They are developing a flashlight-like device that combines multiple electromagnetic sources to more effectively kill microbes than one particular radiation source could achieve alone.

This is part of the team’s larger effort to use powerful Li-ion batteries to enable new energy storage and advanced mobile health care technologies. For example, this particular antivirus device can also be designed for different applications, such as hand-held devices for daily household use, and backpack or suitcase devices for large-area disinfections in public spaces. The device can be used for almost any surface.

Professors Yang and Liu are working with CoMotion who just recently filed a provisional patent application on their behalf. They also plan to collaborate with industry to manufacture these devices. The team’s next steps are to validate effectiveness and launch a startup for rapidly moving to commercialization.

Equipment Disinfection (IMBED technology)

Dr. Tom Lendvay, Associate Professor of Urology, UW

Principal Investigators:

Thomas Lendvay, Professor, UW Department of Urology and M.D. and Attending Pediatric Urologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital

James C. Chen, M.D. Chief Scientific and Medical Officer, Epistat

Tanner Clark, M.D. PGY-5 Resident, UW Department of Radiology

Llew Keltner, M.D., PhD. CEO, Epistat

A key challenge for combatting infectious diseases is lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks for healthcare workers. The industry standard masks, like the N95 mask, are designed to be single-use devices, and it is very difficult to clean and sanitize them without destroying or rendering them toxic to the wearer. Currently, there are no commercially available products or methods to effectively and efficiently disinfect PPE.

Use of a commonly available and safe chemical in hospitals, methylene blue (MB), combined with light, could potentially disinfect PPE quickly, inexpensively, and without causing them to become ineffective or unsafe.  If this is possible, it would significantly increase the amount of available protection gear.

According to Professor Lendvay, “If successful, this technique would have near-term and long-term global effects and could revolutionize PPE use in healthcare, military, and civilian environments. In the near term, this technique could extend the life of PPE to help alleviate the severe and devastating shortage of PPE that will only intensify as the current pandemic continues to spread across the globe.” The combination of these advances and further research and development has the potential to greatly reduce healthcare costs, decrease mortality, stop the spread of COVID-19, and prevent future pandemics.

“CoMotion has rapidly and thoroughly shepherded the potential technology transfer that can emanate from this work,” said Professor Lendvay. “Ryan Buckmaster and Patrick Chinkiwsky have turned our multiple ideas for potential IP into provisional patent applications.  They have effectively channeled an Amazon grant to our project and they have been an engaged partner in enabling our success.”

Read more about this project on the UW Department of Urology website here.