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Luxembourg to invest 1.7bn euros in research and higher education

Research funding agreements.

Priority areas for research digital technology and personalised medicine, financial technologies of the future, education and training, as well as climate and energy challenges.

Luxembourg is increasing research funding by nearly 300 million euros to a total of 1.7 billion euros for the 2022 – 2025 period, up 17.6% on the previous years.

The state allocates its funds to higher education and research on the basis of four-year contracts with the University of Luxembourg, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) and the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR).

Allocation in m eurosVariation
University of Luxembourg908.28+16.9%
Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology219.41+16.8%
Luxembourg Institute of Health 182.54+20.3%
Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research 62.08+25.7%
Luxembourg National Research Fund 294.03 +9.6%
Bonus 35.00+90%
Total1,701.34+17.6%
The bonus will be distributed among institutions based on performance in the context of the EU Research and Development Framework Programme.

Digitalisation and data

The University of Luxembourg will develop

  • a centre for the ethics of digitalisation that will address and anticipate the ethical, social, governmental and legal challenges of digitalisation;
  • new and strengthened activities in the field of high-performance computing, data science and quantum computing, as well as digital teaching and learning, in particular through digital education, the strengthening of its media centre and a new Master in Media Studies and Digital Culture.

The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) will

  • turn its data analysis platform into a platform for artificial intelligence, data analysis and IT visualisation by integrating developments in new technologies;
  • integrate digital twin in its digitalisation strategy;
  • develop an innovation platform for quantum computing and quantum computing technologies.

The Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) will place the patient at the centre of its activities. The research institute will be fully in line with the current paradigm shift in biomedical research, driven by the widespread adoption of disruptive technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. and machine learning.

In partnership with the Luxembourg Institute of Health, the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) and representatives of public authorities and civil society, the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) will develop a project around the concept of “One Health” applied in Luxembourg.

Sustainable development and energy

The University of Luxembourg will develop its activities on social, societal, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development. The creation of a new interdisciplinary centre focusing on environmental systems will be a major initiative in the next four years.

The field of environmental and bioresourced technologies will be one of the cornerstones of the activities of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology over the next four years. The research institute plans to develop an innovation centre around hydrogen. In the new strategy, the objective “sustainable by design” is included for the first time.

The Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) will continue to develop research to identify effective policies to reduce exposures to air pollution, to stimulate sustainable and smart mobility, to develop strategies for households to produce renewable energy, to reduce energy consumption in housing, to reduce the risks of energy poverty and mobility, to produce new jobs in the circular economy and to stimulate green finance.

Medicine and health

The University of Luxembourg will continue to develop its medical education provision, launch academic nursing programmes and pursue its commitment to excellence in biomedical and translational research, including psychosocial research.

Future research at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) will focus specifically on the areas of cancer immunology and the tumour microenvironment, immunity and the exposome, which will provide an understanding of how exposures from personal and external sources interact with unique human characteristics and affect human health.

Setting out four shared priorities

The agreements signed between Luxembourg and the University of Luxembourg, and the three public research institutes include a common chapter, setting four priorities shared by the entities: digitalisation and personalised medicine, fintech, education and training for the 21st century, and climate and energy challenges.

These four missions will be co-financed by instruments of the Luxembourg National Research Fund.

“These missions are above all a collective commitment by public research to fuel and strengthen the country’s economic and social development. The concept of the missions is based on the triple helix model, i.e. strengthened collaboration between public research, higher education and the economic world as well as society at large.”

Claude Meisch, Minister for Higher Education and Research

In addition to the missions, the University and the public research institutes have identified the following topics for enhanced cooperation:

  • Joint affiliation of researchers;
  • Inter-institutional research groups;
  • Joint platforms and infrastructures;
  • Knowledge and technology transfer;
  • Doctoral education;
  • Open Science.

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Research and industry collaboration in full swing

Research X Industry.

Collaboration with industry is central to Research Luxembourg to articulate its vision. Through strong partnerships, research players seek to support existing and future industries.

The National Research and Innovation Strategy aims to encourage companies to undertake research, development and innovation activities. In order to make research a driver for economic diversification and for innovation in industry, the government encourages the development of public-private partnership programmes.

Recently, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) developed collaborations with industrial partners.

LIST and No-Nail Boxes launch an in-situ training solution 

LIST in partnership with No-Nail Boxes, a manufacturer of plywood folding boxes, have launched an in-situ training solution aimed at supporting and developing user skills of computer numerical control machines known as CNC. The result will be an Industry 4.0 challenger with an in-situ learning assistant for CNC machines.

We develop an assistant on a software which provides tasks you must complete on the CNC machine. You finish these tasks, and the software provides feedback on whether they have been done correctly or not and guide you to using correct materials and procedures, so that you learn in-situ.

Marie Gallais, head of the project at LIST

The main advantages of this are that users gain confidence directly on the job and mistakes and hazards can be avoided thanks to the system’s feedback. The assistant could also prove useful for small CNC Machines such as 3D Printing machines used for example in schools.

LIST and No-Nail Boxes signed an experimental agreement in 2020.

The research institute was searching for real world conditions to develop a demonstrator. With their CNC wood milling machines, No-Nail Boxes was the ideal candidate.

More about LIST and No-Nail Boxes’ partnership.

SnT and Spacety partner to tackle space debris pollution

The University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) has partnered with Spacety Luxembourg S.A., a global new space company specialised in small satellites and satellite-based services to study small satellite solutions for space debris removal.

The aim of the partnership between SnT and Spacety will be to investigate the research and development of novel space debris removal concepts.

We are excited to be working with Spacety on this area of research, as it has a global significance to our future in space. Collaborating with Spacety will enable us access to real satellites, so that we may eventually be able to test our algorithms and mechatronics concepts designs in space

Prof. Miguel Angel Olivares-Mendez, head of the SpaceR research group and principal investigator of the project.

Split into three phases, the first phase of the project is set to focus on reviewing what current technologies exist for removing space trash. The phase will also involve assessing the feasibility and assessment of small satellite solutions for space debris removal.

The second phase will consist of developing concepts and simulations, which will be demonstrated in a simulator and in the Zero-G facility of SnT during phase three. 

SnT has entered into a partnership with Spacety Luxembourg S.A.

The project will involve a collaboration between researchers in SnT’s Space Robotics (SpaceR) research group and Spacety.

Read more about SnT and Spacety collaboration.

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Europe must come together to confront Omicron

Omicron.

The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in Europe, even in countries with high levels of vaccination, including those that have moved quickly with booster vaccinations. European countries must act together quickly to confront it, state scientists from all over Europe

A multi-disciplinary team of over 30 scientists from all across Europe, including Research Luxembourg spokesman Paul Wilmes, have joined forces to issue a statement to address the wave of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. The statement was published in the renowned British Medical Journal (BMJ) on January 11, 2022.

In their call to coordinated action, they warn that Omicron remains concerning even when headlines are suggesting that Omicron causes a milder form of COVID-19. Hence the experts call for immediate action, namely taking measures to reduce the number of infections, while protecting children and proceeding the vaccination efforts.

There is no excuse for delay or inaction

The need for urgent action stems from knowledge gained from laboratory and epidemiological studies that antibodies resulting from vaccination or prior infection with earlier variants have reduced ability to neutralise omicron, leading to frequent reinfections. 

While infections with Omicron appear to be inducing less severe disease and to result in fewer deaths in these highly vaccinated populations, it is still causing high levels of hospitalisations in many countries, with pressure on health services exacerbated by infections among health and other essential workers. There are also worrying reports of its impact on children, who in most countries have been at most only partially vaccinated, as well as concerns about its longer term consequences, including long COVID. While early reports from South Africa, amplified by media organisations, suggested that omicron is causing “mild” disease, the Director General of World Health Organisation (WHO) has argued that it should not be categorised in this way.

We write as health professionals and researchers from across Europe to call for concerted European action to address the immediate threat and to move rapidly to develop joint plans to tackle future variants of concern effectively.

EU Member States have accepted the principle of a European Health Union and have put in place measures to create a Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority. 

They now need to show that they can work together in ways that they have not always done before.

Two years into the pandemic, the dangers of delayed, ineffective, or uncoordinated mitigation measures should be clear. We also know which strategies are most effective. These are a combination of minimising mixing with others in indoor spaces, and where this cannot be avoided, making these settings safer with good ventilation, air filtration, and mask wearing, supported by appropriate use of testing. There is no excuse for delay or inaction.

Why the urgency?

Sera of vaccinated individuals exhibit a substantial reduction in ability to neutralise Omicron, with most currently available monoclonal antibodies incapable of neutralising it. Vaccination with only two doses offers little protection against infection but protection does increase markedly following a third dose. There is also reassuring evidence that vaccination induces a T cell response against omicron, although the duration of protection conferred by a third dose remains to be determined. 

Reported incidence in Europe since the beginning of the pandemic. It is clearly visible that incidence has already surpassed previous peaks by far. Even with a lower probability of severe disease with Omicron, the extreme number of infections may still lead to many severe cases and overwhelm hospitals.

However, despite the success of vaccination programmes in many countries, the majority have yet to receive booster doses and there are still many people with little or no immunity, including those with reduced immune function, for example due to age or comorbidity, and children who, in most countries, have yet to be vaccinated, who have no history of prior infection.

For now, here are at least two critical questions:

  • How well vaccination protects against infections and severe disease over time, noting that, so far, omicron has not yet spread extensively into older age groups in many countries, and
  • How much pressure the increased transmissibility and/or immune evasion of omicron puts on health systems, both through increased numbers of patients and staff absences. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, letting omicron run unfettered risks potentially devastating consequences.

Calling for an immediate, united, coordinated response across Europe

First, we urgently need to reduce infections to avoid overwhelming health systems and protect public life and the economy. Our concern is not only with the burden of severe disease; it is also with absences, through illness, even if mild, or quarantining of essential workers in all sectors, including education, transport, and infrastructure. Implementing effective measures such as working from home, mask mandates, and reducing indoor gatherings would bring rapid benefits, relieving pressure on these systems, and thus decreasing the likelihood of needing far-reaching stringent measures, such as closures, curfews, or lockdowns. These policies can certainly be adopted at national or regional levels but, from a European perspective, more can be done by coordinated action. Specifically, we need a coordinated communication strategy to support them, saying loudly and clearly that “covid is airborne,” with everything that follows from that. In particular, this points to a focus on measures that seek to ensure that the settings for common gatherings, for example in schools, factories, and entertainment venues, provide as safe environments as possible. This must be supported by coordinated guidance and, in due course, European legislation on how to make them safe, including ventilation standards.

Suggested measures to slow the spread of Omicron in Europe. Slowing the spread of Omicron using evidence-based measures is still effective and will help to protect health care systems and critical infrastructure.

Second, we need to protect children in ways that allow them to benefit from education safely. There are clear signals from South Africa and the United States of a steep rise in hospital admissions among children associated with high community transmission even if it is still unclear how this translates to Europe. However, if we wait for more evidence, the sheer number of hospitalised cases, even if not severely ill, could soon overwhelm limited paediatric care capacity. In this context we must note there are few anti-covid treatments currently approved for children and those approved for adults are also in short supply. European countries have, so far, varied greatly in how they have responded to covid in schools. For now, we call on all relevant actors, including European professional bodies (in health and education), the European Commission, and the European Region of WHO to engage in urgent discussions on how to share experience of good practice in both safe classrooms and remote learning.

Third, we need to buy time so that more individuals, including children, can be vaccinated, including scale up of supplies of paediatric doses. Rapid scale-up of vaccinations and boosters is essential, but will not be fast enough to defeat the omicron wave.

“This protection is still present against the Omicron variant.”

“Recent vaccination even protects partially against infection.”

Prof. Paul Wilmes, deputy spokesman of Research Luxembourg Taskforce, Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine at the University of Luxembourg and coauthor of the statement

However, we can prepare for further variants. This requires concerted European (and indeed global) action to develop new polyvalent and new variant vaccines, coupled with a concerted campaign to reach those who have yet to be vaccinated.

Again, we call for sharing of best practice, including measures that overcome the remaining barriers that people face, as well as concerted Europe-wide measures for infodemic management, and especially targeting sources of disinformation. This will necessitate engaging with social media platforms in ways that individual countries may find difficult. However, Europe also needs to do more to make the world safe. This includes additional support for Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) and the COVID-19 Vaccine Access Facility (COVAX), as well as withdrawal of opposition to measures that would facilitate manufacturing in low and middle income countries.

The European response in the early stages of the pandemic was often fragmented and delayed. We cannot make the same mistakes again.

The statement was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on January 11, 2022.

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What are the benefits, costs and feasibility of a low incidence COVID-19 strategy

yellow and black caution wet floor sign

A low incidence strategy.

Lifting some non-pharmaceutical interventions means living with a relatively high incidence of cases. Such a high incidence means hundreds of cases per week per 100,000 people.

The rate of fully vaccinated people is not sufficient to break infection chains and reduce infection rates in most European countries. What’s more, the emerging variants of concern show partial immune escape. What’s the cost of high incidence? What does a low incidence strategy imply?

In a recently published open access paper, a collective of international researchers including Luxembourg scientists Enrico Glaab, Alexander Skupin, and Paul Wilmes, examined the benefits, costs and feasibility of a low incidence COVID-19 strategy.

Reducing non-pharmaceutical interventions means accepting high COVID-19 incidence

In many countries, decision makers have felt compelled to abolish mask mandates as soon as the number of infections has decreased. In the summer of 2021, European governments lifted most non-pharmaceutical interventions aimed at containing the pandemic. Yet, the examples of Israel and Singapore suggest that even in countries with high vaccination rates, especially when faced with declining immunity, the removal of non-pharmaceutical interventions contributes to high incidence and associated adverse effects among other factors contributing to increased incidence during the winter months.

Non-pharmaceutical interventions are actions, apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine, that people and communities can take to help slow the spread of illnesses. Measures and policies range from regular disinfection of public spaces to movement restrictions.

In this context, removing most non-pharmaceutical interventions appears to be a risky strategy. At peak incidence levels, test-trace-isolate-support systems (TTIS) capacity is quickly exceeded. It becomes impossible to detect and break many chains of infection. A further rapid increase in incidence to the point of total loss of control of transmission can then potentially result.

Exempting vaccinated people from non-pharmaceutical interventions, e.g. mask wearing or testing, poses further containment problems. Indeed, these individuals may still become infected and transmit the virus; given the frequent exemption of vaccinated individuals from testing requirements on the basis of the EU Covid digital certificate, their role in transmission chains needs to be assessed in terms of their contribution to the spread of variants of concerns.

Without effective TTIS systems, infections will go unreported and many chains of infection will not be detected and broken in time.

Reducing non-pharmaceutical interventions means accepting high COVID-19 incidence

High COVID-19 incidence has many impacts.

High incidence directly affects the health of a large proportion of the population.

The most vulnerable, including economically disadvantaged and/or socially marginalised populations, tend be less well served by vaccination programmes and campaigns. Many people cannot be vaccinated for health reasons or have a poor immune response to the vaccine, and therefore remain at risk.

High incidence has a negative impact on the workforce.

When people fall ill or need to isolate or quarantine, others need to do their work. This additional workload increases the likelihood of burnout, as has become evident especially among healthcare workers.

In education, infected children and their close contacts are excluded from school or day care.

In this way, a high incidence also harms children and their education, even if schools remain open. This is in addition to the harm that children have already suffered during the pandemic.

High incidence combined with only part of the population being vaccinated or naturally immune after the disease gives the virus more opportunity to mutate and increases the evolutionary pressure on it to escape that immunity.

This increases the likelihood that new variants will emerge and spread undetected in Europe, especially as vaccinated people are unlikely to maintain the same level of vigilance against possible transmission of SARS-CoV-2. A variant that renders existing vaccines less effective by gaining a foothold in Europe would lengthen the pandemic and could cost even more lives and livelihoods.

Additional burdens will be placed on health systems.

With C lifted and lowered risk perception, influenza, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, and pneumonia cases are likely to be more than last year. Due to postponement of surgeries and routine care during the pandemic there is a large backlog of patients in need of care. Indeed, if incidence increases before a sufficient proportion of people has been vaccinated (against COVID-19 and influenza), health systems may reach capacity limits.

The economic, social and health burdens associated with non-pharmaceutical interventions need attention.

Many of these burdens particularly affect vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Maintaining and achieving low incidence is likely to reduce the need for the most harmful types of restrictions. Yet, the unintended negative consequences of apparently laudable measures are well known in the history of public health. As such, the role of non-pharmaceutical interventions in producing harm must be closely and carefully monitored.

Going for a low incidence strategy to avoid illness, deaths, and lockdowns

Achieving and maintaining low incidence is an important avenue to explore. This can be reached through a combination of increasing population immunisation with moderate non-pharmaceutical interventions in the winter and progressive social and economic policy measures to improve public health.

The rationale for this recommendation rests on three pillars:

01

At low incidence, test-trace-isolate-support systems can function effectively.

02

As population vaccination coverage progresses , the effective reproduction number Reff is continuously reduced, necessitating only moderate non-pharmaceutical interventions to keep Reff below 1.

03

A key aim of low incidence is to avoid the more restrictive measures that would follow spikes in infection rates, consequently lessening the harms incurred by non-pharmaceutical interventions.

By and large, a strategy successfully maintaining a low incidence provides more stability and helps to protect from the manifold social, psychological, and economic harms of such more restrictive measures.

Why do we need a common European strategy?

Overall, a pan-European commitment is crucial. The essential pillars needed to achieve and maintain low incidence include a clear political commitment across Europe to rapidly achieve high vaccine coverage. It also means close and systematic surveillance of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants across regions and countries, as well as systematic and representative sampling of SARS-CoV-2 infection in asymptomatic and symptomatic carriers, while monitoring for new variants with an early warning system.

A common European strategy is also needed to share vaccines with countries that do not have sufficient supplies. Coordinated global cooperation will greatly facilitate the pursuit of a low incidence strategy for COVID-19, and thus indirectly suppress the emergence of new variants. This would control the pandemic and avoid the discussed risks of the high incidence scenario.

In sum, in the low incidence scenario, we could avoid further damage to health, the economy and society. In contrast to 2020, European countries now have the capacity to effectively implement moderate non-pharmaceutical interventions, e.g. indoor masks, lateral flow tests. We have a better understanding of the effectiveness of different non-pharmaceutical interventions than we did a year ago. This means that companies are now in a better position to choose the minimum and least invasive set of actions needed to achieve and maintain low incidence, alongside social and economic policy measures that will also play a key role in maintaining low cases.

The Luxembourg researchers Enrico Glaab, Alexander Skupin, and Paul Wilmes received support from the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR).

Read the publication, entitled The benefits, costs and feasibility of a low incidence COVID-19 strategy

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Survey reveals 87% of Luxembourg vaccinees are eager to get a booster jab or already got it

Covid-19 vaccination survey.

Between 27 November and 5 December, 600 adults were interviewed about vaccination in a statistically representative survey.

How many vaccinated people want to get a booster jab? How many parents have had their children vaccinated?

A recent representative survey conducted by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR)/science.lu in cooperation with researchers from Luxembourg gives answers to these questions and more generally on vaccination.

Luxembourg vaccinees willing to get a booster dose

Among vaccinees in Luxembourg, there is a very high willingness to get a booster dose. Indeed, 57% are very likely and 8% are likely to get a booster shot. Matching the official figures, 22% of vaccinees had already received a booster jab. Only, 6% of the respondents think it is unlikely that they will get a booster shot while 6% are still uncertain.

Worth noting is that the youngest age group (18-24 years) showed the highest level of reluctance. Case in point: a total of 13% of individuals surveyed were somewhat opposed to a booster shot, compared to only 4% in the over-50 age group.

Most participants are positive about vaccinating children aged 5-11 years

A solid majority of respondents claimed they support children vaccination whereas 22% disagree and 22% have no opinion.

Surprisingly, parents of young children are more ‘vaccine confident’ than the wider public. The surveyed parents, making up 13% of total respondents, appears to be more positive about vaccinating young children. Among them, 49% were very likely and 17% were likely to have their children vaccinated.

Vaccinated people show higher trust in Covid-19 public policies

The survey asked participants how much confidence they currently have in the state and institutions of the country to take the most appropriate measures to fight the pandemic and protect us from the coronavirus.

The respondents’ confidence in the actions of the state and institutions in the fight against Covid-19 stands at 68%.

Confidence is particularly low among the unvaccinated as 53% of them do not trust public decisions. Most of this group appear to be younger respondents and people with low levels of education.

Key take-aways

87%

of vaccinees are eager to get a booster jab or already got it.

56%

of respondents are positive about vaccination for children ages 5-11.

66%

of parents who have children between the ages of 5 and 11 want to have their children vaccinated.

68%

of participants trust the actions of the state and institutions in the fight against Covid-19.

Why do people get vaccinated or not?

The main reason why people get vaccinated is to protect themselves (74%), to protect others (66%) and to show solidarity (53%).

The health aspect plays an important role for a total of 86%. Yet 58% of the respondents also have more pragmatic reasons for vaccination, as unvaccinated people face more obstacles in their daily lives and have fewer options. In addition, 12% also feel compelled to do so. And this view is disproportionately shared by the 18-34 age group, where almost a quarter of respondents cited social pressure as a reason for vaccination. In the 55+ age group, the rate only stands at 6%.

Among anti-vaxxers, health reasons play a role in the majority of cases. The fear of side and long-term effects (58%) is mentioned. In addition, half of the vaccination sceptics and opponents believes that the vaccine emerged too quickly and that there is insufficient evidence that the vaccinations were effective and necessary.

The study was conducted by FNR and science.lu, in collaboration with Joël Mossong, epidemiologist at the Luxembourg Health Directorate, and Anja Leist, social scientist at the University of Luxembourg.

Read the complete survey results on science.lu [in German].

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EntropyHub: an open source toolkit for researchers and companies

Entropy.

An increasing number of studies across many research fields from biomedical engineering to finance are employing measures of entropy to quantify the regularity, variability or randomness of time series and image data. 

How to measure entropy? How to find an accurate tool that is accessible to the greatest?

Matthew Flood, a postdoctoral fellow at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, has developed an open source toolkit for entropic time series analysis dedicated to students, researchers and companies. Its name is EntropyHub.

Entropy as a measure of the disorder of the universe

The world around us is composed of systems that exhibit nonlinear dynamical behaviour, e.g. the human body, the financial markets, and the climate.
Measuring the uncertainty of their behaviour is crucial for predicting events where these systems malfunction. Entropy allows us to measure that uncertainty.

Healthy systems are often ordered. By measuring disorder, you understand the health of a system

In recent years, entropy has emerged as a complexity measure for the study of time series from biological systems, including the brain, heart, or muscles. Entropy measures have been used to analyse short, sparse and noisy medical time series.

The concept of entropy is also used in many other fields of science like economics or sociology.

EntropyHub: a new hope

While entropy is gaining momentum, there is a lack of validated, open source software tools that allow researchers to apply these methods. To date, software packages for performing entropy analysis are often run using graphical interfaces, lack the necessary documentation, or do not include functions for more advanced entropy methods.

This is what Matthew Flood experienced during his doctoral studies while looking for resources. He started to write algorithms to have a set of tools for himself in his daily job. Compiling toolboxes, Matthew Flood was able to compare different entropic series.

“Despite the popularity of entropy analysis in research, there was nowhere online to find comprehensive set of validated algorithms for calculating different entropy measures. Many researchers and students contacted me to ask where they can find a particular piece of code or function. Indeed, it’s not the easiest thing to write since you have to be absolutely certain it is accurate”

Matthew Flood

As a postdoctoral fellow in Research Luxembourg, Matthew received the time and space to design an online solution. Dubbed EntropyHub, this open-source toolkit is designed to perform entropic time series analysis in MATLAB, Python and Julia, i.e. numerical programming languages.

EntropyHub provides an extensive range of more than forty functions for estimating cross-, multiscale, multiscale cross-, and bidimensional entropy, each including a number of keyword arguments that allows the user to specify multiple parameters in the entropy calculation.

The Lorenz Attractor
A Mandelbrot fractal

An example of inclusive science

EntropyHub provides tools that make advanced entropic time series analysis straightforward and reproducible. Matthew Flood believes in inclusive science. Hence, EntropyHub is accessible and results are reproductible.

“I’m an advocate of well designed and well developed open source software tools. If you are able to share the tools you use with the community, it also means that the results of your research can be replicated. If you are more open about your work, it becomes more reliable. This is what we are aiming for.”

Matthew Flood

The software is already gaining traction as Matthew is in contact with researchers in Brazil, Columbia, Ireland and Portugal.

The goal of EntropyHub is to integrate the many established entropy methods into one complete resource.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Erica Grant

You are what you eat.

A diet rich in fibre is supportive to our health. Recent research indicates that bacteria in the human gut play a key role in breaking down fibre to produce the compounds involved in maintaining gut health. Yet, dietary fibre intake levels are well below recommendations.

How does dietary fibre intake affect the human gut microbiome? How can diet modulation be used as a translational approach to manage disease?

Erica Grant, a third-year PhD candidate at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), is examining the effect of fibre deprivation on the composition and activity of the gut microbiome.

One apple a day

Intriguingly, human enzymes are not able to digest most fibres. In fact, dietary fibre is not hydrolysed by human digestive enzymes, but is processed by gut microbes.

The gastrointestinal microbiota therefore plays an important role in human health. The Eco-immunology and Microbiome Group at the LIH, led by Professor Mahesh Desai, has shown that fibre deprivation leads to the proliferation of mucolytic bacteria that degrade the colonic mucus layer and increase disease risk. Based on this finding, Erica Grant is investigating the impact of the maternal microbiota and diet on immune development in pups using a gnotobiotic mouse model with and without a key mucin-degrading bacterium.

Gut microbiota is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that live in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals. They digest food and make key nutrients that influence individuals’ metabolism, immune function and even mental health.

The researcher is also conducting a crossover human cohort study to assess the effects of low fibre diet on host mucolytic bacteria populations and early inflammatory shifts. In this project, called Luxembourgish Fiber Cohort (Lux-FiCo), healthy participants are randomly assigned to either a controlled low-fibre or high-fibre diet and then, after a washout period to reverse any compositional changes, are switched to the second type of diet.

This research seeks to contribute to the knowledge of the consequences of a low-fibre diet and the role of certain mucolytic bacteria in the modulation of intestinal permeability and immune responses in humans. The implications of a better understanding and control of these interactions are vast, with relevance to the prevention and/or treatment of cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases and auto-immune diseases.

Mucolytic bacteria can be found in healthy humans, where they are an integral part of the bacterial consortium associated with the mucosa.

A biological researcher born

Erica Grant’s research journey has alternated between multiple overlapping disciplines including microbiology, ecology, and public health, settling on a niche field of research where microbes and human or animal health converge.

After completing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Microbiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, followed by a Masters in Public Health (MPH) in One Health at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, Erica joined the Eco-Immunology and Microbiome team of LIH.

The giant plastic bubble is a critical piece of lab equipment where we culture anaerobic bacteria. It’s kept at 37 deg C and is completely anoxic, so essential for culturing oxygen-sensitive isolates from fecal samples, among other uses.

“I grew up in the mountains so biological research has always been something that I was drawn to. When I was looking for institutes to do my PhD, I knew I wanted something smaller and more intimate than what I had experienced in my undergraduate and masters training.”

Erica Grant

Erica’s research is part of the Microbiomes in One Health PhD training unit, which is funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund PRIDE. The researcher also got funding from the Personalised Medicine Consortium to conduct a major part of her PhD, namely Lux-FiCo. Finally, Erica was awarded the 2020 Pelican Grant by the Fondation du Pélican de Mie et Pierre Hippert-Faber. The grant intends to support her training and mobility activities in the context of her research projects on the gut microbiome. 

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

To the researcher, one of the biggest advantages of pursuing research in Luxembourg is that you have access to resources that allow you to put in more—to try out new tools, to integrate different areas of expertise, and to aim for higher quality research than you might have produced otherwise.

While Erica came to LIH with a background in microbiology and public health, she was keen to expand her computational skills to gain greater research independence and to increase productivity in collaborations. Since then, Erica has been able to embrace the challenge of developing these skills further in part because of excellent infrastructure like ELIXIR-LU, available to students from all over Luxembourg.

@Alessandro De Sciscio

“The combination of expertise within the teams has been very beneficial for my personal development as well as for the success of the projects I have been involved in. Research Luxembourg fosters interdisciplinarity.”

Erica Grant

The researcher praises the outstanding infrastructure, specifically the germ-free facility. “It makes experiments involving gnotobiotic mice incredibly convenient. In other universities or institutes, it is not uncommon for researchers to have to commute to an hour to get to a germ-free animal facility. Being able to move quickly between the computer, the lab bench and the germ-free animal facility is a major privilege.”

An ideal country to recharge your batteries

Working hours in research can be long and unusual. As such, Erica Grant wanted to live somewhere that made it a bit more comfortable. Fortunately, Luxembourg is just that.

“There is great access to social services such as inexpensive healthcare, free public transportation, and housing or mobility subsidies that make this notoriously expensive country more affordable, even for someone on a PhD student salary.”

Erica Grant

One of her favourite things about the country has been the bike subsidy programme that the Luxembourgish government supports.

“Through this initiative, my partner and I were able to purchase high-quality touring bikes for half the retail price. Since purchasing these bikes, we have spent at least one day out on the cycle paths nearly every weekend and it has been a refreshing way to explore the charming Luxembourgish villages and countryside.”

Erica Grant

Combined with the free public transport, the researcher has been able to explore a variety of landscapes. They go from dense forests to hilltop castles where time seems frozen and gorgeous terraced vineyards along the Moselle river that invite a slower paced lifestyle. “These spontaneous adventures around Luxembourg strengthen my appreciation of what the country has to offer and, importantly, allow me to recharge after a busy week in the lab!”

Read more about Erica Grant‘s research work.

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CON-VINCE: Luxembourg population willing to help science

COvid-19 National survey for assessing VIral spread by Non-affected CarriErs

Asymptomatic individuals, aka silent carriers, and mildly symptomatic carriers play a significant role in the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Yet, diagnostic testing at the beginning of the pandemic was performed predominantly on people with clear COVID-19 symptoms. To put in place effective measures to stave off the COVID-19 infection, it is crucial to systematically test a representative sample of the population to identify all individuals carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus, regardless of their symptoms.

What is the nature, prevalence and mode of transmission of COVID-19 in Luxembourg?

CON-VINCE was launched in April 2020 as one of multiple initiatives under the Research Luxembourg COVID-19 task force to help control the pandemic. By screening a statistically representative panel of volunteers for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the study aims to identify asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic individuals and follow them for one year. More than a year and a half after the start of the study, initial findings are emerging.

Luxembourg people willing to contribute to the study

While the study targeted 1,500 participants, over 1,800 people from the Luxembourg population contributed to the study. This high level of participation resulted in a representative sample taking into account gender, age, residency and geography.

The study participants were initially followed up every fortnight, which allowed for a large number of samples and information to be collected. Long-term follow-up took place in March 2021 and again from April to June 2021.

Barely a month after national lockdown, Research Luxembourg launched the “CON-VINCE” study to understand the spread of the virus in the country.

Peak of prevalence between April and June 2021

Based on the samples collected, the highest prevalence in the Luxembourg population occurred between April and June 2021.

The most common and specific persistent symptoms that distinguish the virus-exposed from the unexposed groups include loss of smell/taste, fatigue and cardiac arrhythmia

Around 14% of participants have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 ((sometimes unknowingly), and many are still showing symptoms more than 6 months after their infection.

The pandemic led to a surge in anxiety and depressive disorders

The project also monitored the psychological and socio-economic impact of long-term containment measures on the general population.

Among the participants, the number of people suffering from depression and anxiety is almost identical – whether they were COVID positive or negative.

Women and young people turned out to have greater anxiety and depression. During the first phase of lockdown, 21% of people reported moderate depression and loneliness.

The project also made it clear that the childhood environment is one of the most influential factors in psychological and emotional well-being during pandemic lockdown.

Vaccination acceptance is linked to age, education and cultural background

The study found that reluctance to vaccinate has to do with socio-economic factors, as well as cultural background. As such, younger people are more reluctant to be vaccinated as they feel they are at lower risk of contracting the virus. In addition, vaccination rates are greater among people with higher levels of education.

This research project received support from the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) and private funding from the Fondation André Losch.

More about CON-VINCE

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Covid-19 tracing Apps: Big brother is not watching you

Digital contact tracing systems.

The strong impact of EU law in the field of data protection is a topic of crucial interest when it comes to the development of a digital tracing system to combat the pandemic.

Tracing applications were initially considered as a key instrument for “a quick exit out of the crisis” and quite rapidly sparked a lively debate as to their intrusive nature and their possible use by States to track down citizens. Could digital tracing systems be considered as a threat to citizens’ fundamental rights? What lessons could be learned from such developments? How could they potentially evolve in the future?

This moving context drew the backdrop for a group of researchers from Research Luxembourg and the University of Rome 3, under the project LEGAFIGHT, to make recommendations on a draft legislation on tracing applications for Luxembourg.

Understanding what lies behind digital contact tracing Apps

The outbreak of COVID-19 led countries to take various measures to reduce the spread of the infection.

One of these measures relies on the fact that new smart phones feature powerful sensors. Using Bluetooth Lower Energy technology, a phone can detect short-range power signals from other phones, identify them and estimate the distance and duration of the encounter.

With some extra information, an app can estimate whether there has been a risk of infection. Digital contact tracing (DCT) works in such a way. They alert the user when they have been in close proximity to a person who tests positive for the virus. As the user is at risk of infection, they are advised to test for COVID19 and, if they also test positive, to self-isolate and reduce the spread of the virus.

An application using GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas can receive and process signals and track not only the user’s movements but also whom they meet.

As soon as the idea of using DCT emerged, many people began to worry about privacy.

One concern relates to the access permissions that DCT applications may require, e.g. contact details, call history, internet searches, camera permissions, access to call records, messages and mobile media. Another concern is where the data, including location traces or contact history, is stored and processed and how it is protected from unauthorised access.

Depending on the implementation and the underlying communication and data management architectures, DCT applications offer different security guarantees. Overall, most of today’s applications are, to different degrees, privacy-preserving.

GDPR to the rescue

While breaches of privacy may occur, and despite insights from describing attack scenarios, not everything that can happen will happen.

When assessing the risks, there are other factors to keep in mind. Laws and regulations, for example, impose restrictions on the processing of personal data and hold accountable those who pursue malpractices.

In Europe, where above all the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) states that data processing can only take place under strict requirements, countries have been free to choose their DCT, albeit following EU guidelines.

EU guidelines include

  • Contact tracing and warning Apps should only be voluntarily installed and used;
  • The data minimisation principle should be employed in the app design;
  • Apps should use proximity data based on Bluetooth technology;
  • No location data is requested or utilised by the tracing App;
  • Contact tracing and warning Apps do not track people’s movements;
  • The data should not be stored longer than necessary – 14 days;
  • Data should be protected through state-of-the-art techniques, including encryption;
  • The applications should be de-activated as soon as the pandemic is over.

The GDPR is the most appropriate legal basis for the legal framing of tracing applications. The fact that the processing of data for objectives of public interest should also be assisted by a specific normative basis under European or national law should not be considered as a superfluous legal requirement but, on the contrary, as an opportunity to clearly define the limits of the use of data as well as the entities that will act as the controller as per the GDPR requirements. The existence of a specific act also guarantees transparency of the system and represents a strong signal coming from the legislature as to the importance granted to the respect of citizen’s fundamental rights.

The very protective approach of individual’s privacy, which is the essence of the GDPR, proved to be a very efficient safeguard of citizen’s fundamental rights. The consent-based approach imposed by the regulation allowed for a careful balancing between the rights of individuals and the public interest.

In the end, this project succeeded in demonstrating that all the legal frameworks examined have shown that the legal instruments adopted successfully protect users’ rights.

Tracing Apps are dead, long live tracing Apps!

With new waves looming on the horizon, the pandemic is going to last. Tracing applications may stay longer with us than originally thought. Reshaped into multifunctional applications, transformed into digital certificates supports (for PCR tests or vaccines), the newly born sanitary applications may prove eventually useful in the eyes of the public and perceived less intrusive. Besides, the emergence of a new state of mind, that of “pandemic-fatigue”, could lead to a better social acceptance of such tracing and informing systems. Finally, tracing applications are just one of the many configurations of e-health systems.

Any development concerning digital tracking or e-health devices should be supported by a thorough sociological study to understand how to improve the social acceptance of these systems.

This research is the result of a common endeavour. The various parts have been written by Gabriele Lenzini, Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust of the University of Luxembourg; Elise Poillot, University of Luxembourg; Giorgio Resta, University of Rome 3; Vincenzo Zeno-Zencovich, University of Rome 3; Damien Negre, University of Luxembourg.

The project received support from the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) in the frame of the Covid-19 research funding scheme.

Read the publication, entitled Data protection in the context of COVID-19: A short (hi)story of tracing applications

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What does Covid-19 sound like?

Audio signatures to identify COVID-19 symptoms

Just like a fingerprint, our voice is unique. Recording a cough, the sound of a person’s breathing or even the sound of their voice may be useful to help diagnose Covid-19 patients. Researchers from the Luxembourg Institute of Health, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology and the University of Luxembourg have presented a dataset of voice, cough and breathing audio recordings collected from individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as non-infected subjects.

COVID-19 strongly affects breathing and voice. Indeed, it causes symptoms that make patients’ voices distinctive, creating recognisable audio signatures. Initial studies have already suggested the potential of using voice as a screening solution.

Unlike other related research that mainly tries to show that a particular machine learning model is suitable for a COVID-19 detection task, Research Luxembourg scientists go a step further by providing an in-depth analysis of the most informative acoustic features, with the aim to elucidate the exact mechanisms that modify the acoustic characteristics of COVID-19 coughing.

Using vocal biomarkers to diagnose COVID-19

Voice has already emerged as a powerful digital biomarker to detect early and monitor the progress of various medical conditions. COVID-19 makes no exception as it affects voice production. Therefore, respiratory conditions caused by COVID-19 can make patients’ voices distinctive, creating identifiable vocal signatures.

A recent study reported changes in voice acoustic parameters caused by insufficient airflow through the vocal tract as a consequence of pulmonary and laryngological implications in people with COVID-19.

Following the pandemic, various efforts have been made to develop effective automatic diagnostic solutions that would complement standard testing methods. There are attempts to create low-cost, portable sensing technologies that would allow remote monitoring of physiological signals and biochemical markers, either for early detection of COVID-19 cases or for monitoring the recovery process during self-isolation at home. Several studies have already explored the usability of voice, cough and breathing for detection and screening of COVID-19.

Although the preliminary results for identification of COVID-19 from voice and respiratory sounds are promising, the results are still inconclusive. Further efforts to reach the maturity and confirm the effectiveness of the proposed models over different datasets and a variety of voice sounds are still necessary.

Looking beyond machine learning

Research Luxembourg scientists add a complementary view to existing studies that are, in many instances, relying on machine learning. Thus they provide an in-depth analysis of the most informative acoustic features, trying to unravel the exact mechanisms that modify the acoustic characteristics of the COVID-19 cough. In addition, they show that wavelet scattering transform is a very promising feature extraction method, robust to the noise present in the data, but also capable of learning features from limited data resources.

Research Luxembourg’s scientists collected a dataset of speech, cough and breathing samples of both a group of- people diagnosed positive to COVID-19 and another of non-infected individuals via large scale public involvement.

The collected speech data is multilingual in eight different languages, i.e. English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Luxembourgish and Serbian. This data represents the first dataset that takes into account cross-linguistic variations.

This work is a step towards the development of low-cost and easy-to-use computer-aided tools for the automatic assessment of COVID-19-related respiratory symptoms and remote monitoring of patients during the recovery process.

This research work received support from the Fond National de la Recherche (FNR) and the Fondation André Losch.

Read the open access paper, entitled Detection of COVID-19 from voice, cough and breathing patterns: Dataset and preliminary results.

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