A.I. and Its Expanding Role in the Global Fight Against COVID-19

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There’s only a little more than a week left in February, and when March arrives it will be a bit of a not-so-great milestone. It will have been a year since the global pandemic began, and as most of you will have seen we’re really not much closer to getting past this than we were at this time last year. Not suggesting that the lack of a fix is for a lack of trying, and the fact that we have vaccines now IS a positive development.

But it’s one that’s countered somewhat by the fact that new mutated variants of the virus are now making their appearances, as they were predicted to do. There’s been concerns about whether the vaccines will be as effective against these new strains as they are for the standard COVID virus. So given this very much a new-world problem, it is fitting that new-world technologies may be set to play a pivotal role in making sure these new virus variants don’t gain the upper hand.

We’re talking about Artificial Intelligence here, and if there’s one thing that’s uniform for all Canadian web hosting providers it’s that we are always very enthusiastic about watching and admiring how the digital space has the capacity to bring far-reaching benefits to all of humanity based on the far-reaching capacity of the web itself. And in particular when it stands as platform for rolling out all that new digital technology is capable of on the biggest of scales.

We definitely have an ideal viewing spot alongside the information superhighway this way, and given how we set up so many people to have their own spot on the expressway it’s stuff like this that really grabs our attention.

Powerful Predictor

So where we’re going with this is that news is coming out now that A.I. may be just the powerful ally needed to create vaccines that are able to thwart the new virus variants. Here’s what we know so far.

The University of Southern California has made many very worthwhile contributions to the science community, and it appears they may be about to do it again. USC researchers have developed a new method to counter new mutations of the coronavirus and speed up vaccine development to stop the pathogen that’s already had its way unchallenged for the most part, and way too long.

The research team at the University’s Viterbi School of Engineering has come up with a method to speed the analysis of vaccines and zero in on the best potential preventive medical therapy. What’s most critical about it is that this methodology is easily adaptable to analyze potential mutations of the virus. With the aim being to ensure the best possible vaccines are identified as quickly as possible.

If this pans out as hoped for, it may give vaccine researchers a big advantage with getting an upper hand on the evolving contagion. The machine-learning model they now have in place can accomplish vaccine design cycles that would have taken months or years before. They may be able to produce the same conclusions in a matter of minutes, or even less than that. It remains to be seen just how powerful this A.I. tool might be, but there’s a lot of reason to be thinking positively about this one.

Candidates & Clinical Trials – On the Double!

It’s important to state that what they have here is still a tentative framework, but the basis for it – that the framework can provide vaccine candidates in just seconds and then speed them along to clinical trials without compromising safety – is pretty solid according to industry insiders. Plus, the idea is to keep it going and geared to be able to adapt to help all countries of the globe stay ahead of the virus as it mutates and becomes more of a problem.

For SARS-CoV-2 (virus that results in the person developing COVID-19) the computer model rapidly eliminated 95% of the compounds that might have been considered as treatments against the pathogen and then presented the remaining percentage as legit ones that should be researched further for their effectiveness.

26 potential vaccines that would likely work against the coronavirus came out of this, and from those scientists identified 11 that were best. The idea is then to create a multi-epitope vaccine, one that can attack the spike proteins used by the coronavirus to penetrate a host cell. And independent of what the molecular nature of the virus is in any particular instance. This effectively ends the virus’ ability to replicate.

Super Vaccine Potential

With the technology applied this way, engineers can construct a new multi-epitope vaccine for a new virus in a matter of minutes and then validate its quality in no more than an hour or two. Currently, authorities must grow the pathogen in the lab, then deactivate it and inject it to cause the disease and then measure the effectiveness of each would-be vaccine individually. This is a time-consuming process that usually takes more than a year, and that’s an awfully long time when you’re trying to rein in a global pandemic.

This is particularly fortunate at this time and stage of the pandemic, with the virus starting to mutate around the world. in populations around the world. If this technology develops legs though, as the expression goes, then SARS-CoV-2 may be slowed considerably with this AI-assisted method being used to design other preventive mechanisms quickly.

Researchers working on this project are reporting that the proposed vaccine design framework can take on the most frequently observed mutations and then be reworked further to take on other ones if / when they arrive. And this is all built on top of the giant bioinformatics database – Immune Epitope Database (IEDB) – where scientists around the world have been compiling data about the coronavirus, along with over 600,000 known epitopes from some 3,600 different species.

If this pans out like researchers are hoping it will, it will be among the most attractive feathers in the cap that A.I. will have enjoyed so far since it first got off the ground. Let’s hope so, for everyone’s sake.

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