The global pandemic brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak has forced mankind to look for solutions everywhere. At a time when technological advancements across the globe have set new benchmarks, it’s not surprising that solutions to this massive problem are being sought through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). In this article, we take a look at how technology is helping us in this battle for survival.
AI to combat COVID-19
Developing vaccines is the simplest imaginable method to cure and prevent deadly pandemics from reducing mankind to dust. The process involved in the same, however, is fraught with multiple roadblocks, high-failure rates, trials, more research, and more work in laboratories before something credible is presented to the world. The process is made easier with machine learning which can help in the research and amp; development of a coronavirus vaccine.
Take a look at 5 companies that have employed AI and ML in their search for a cure.
Scientists at South Korea-based Deargen published a paper with the results from a deep learning-based model called MT-DTI. This model uses simplified chemical sequences, rather than 2D or 3D molecular structure. This model predicts how strongly a molecule of interest will bind to a target protein. This model predicted that Atazanavir, which is a medication for HIV has the properties to bind and block a prominent protein on the outside of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It also identified three other antivirals that might bind the virus.
Hong Kong-based Insilico Medicine used an AI-based drug discovery platform to generate tens of thousands of novel molecules with the potential to bind a specific SARS-CoV-2 protein and block the virus’s ability to replicate. A deep learning filtering system narrowed down the list. Insilico is also researching drugs that might improve the immune systems of the elderly—so an older individual might respond to SARS-CoV-2 infection as a younger person does, with milder symptoms and faster recovery—and drugs to help restore lung function after infection.
SRI Biosciences and Iktos
Research firm SRI Biosciences has collaborated with a Paris-based AI company Iktos to develop an antiviral drug that may work to stem the spread of coronavirus. Iktos’ deep learning model designs virtual novel molecules while SRI’s SynFini automated synthetic chemistry platform figures out the best way to make a molecule that creates it. The collaboration designs, manufactures, and tests new drug-like molecules in a short period.
The UK-based BenevolentAI has identified drugs that may block the viral replication process of SARS-CoV-2, also known as coronavirus. Benevolent AI has mined a lot of data from multiple sources with the help of machine learning. Using AI they have identified 6 compounds that effectively block a cellular pathway that appears to allow the virus into cells to make more virus particles.
Chatbots to help in coronavirus diagnosis
Chatbots are an essential element in the fight against coronavirus. As social distancing becomes the norm and healthcare facilities face a severe shortage in personnel and equipment, self-diagnosis assumes an important role to identify a coronavirus case from other relatively simpler ailments like flu or fever due to seasonal changes. Hospitals are overwhelmed with a number of patients, and doctors do not have the time to attend to people who want to get themselves tested merely based on suspicion.
To solve the issue, any person who suspects themselves of having contracted the deadly virus can register online on any healthcare facility. After registration, the suspected patient can answer questions regarding body temperature, travel history, and symptoms. This step can identify the extent to which a person might be infected. In case the patient does not exhibit severe symptoms, he can stay at home, take prescribed medication amid self-isolation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has used Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service to create a COVID-19 assessment chatbot to screen Americans who may be unsure whether to seek medical care. The chatbot helps assuage the feelings of people who are just plain worried. This, in turn, keeps doctors and emergency rooms free for patients who are actually battling for their lives.
AI-based systems to enforce social-distancing
Crowded areas like hospitals and marketplaces are breeding grounds for the deadly virus. Hospitals that are witnessing a massive footfall of patients are potential hotspots where doctors and nurses can get inflicted and become potential carriers of the virus. In such places, AI-based systems can monitor the number of people gathered at a place at a time. If the number of people rises, administration can enforce measures like barricading areas or enforce social distancing. Automated systems like thermal body scanners and IR non-contact systems can measure body temperature at entrances and those who fall under the risk category can be escorted to more secure places where they cannot spread the virus to others.
ML tracking the spread of coronavirus and people flouting quarantine orders
There has been umpteen number of cases where people have flouted home quarantine, social distancing orders. At a time when essential services are pressed for resources, tackling unruly people to prevent community spread of the virus is an additional burden for authorities. South Korea, which has successfully flattened the coronavirus curve, used a mobile phone app to monitor citizens during the lockdown. The app, developed by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, allows those who have been ordered not to leave home to stay in contact with healthcare workers and report on their progress. It uses GPS to keep track of their location to make sure they are not breaking their quarantine.
There’s no doubt that scientists and researchers are working round the clock looking for a cure and a vaccine for the dreaded SARS-CoV-2. Creating a vaccine is no easy task as it involves thousands of man-hours for research, trials, human trials, and manufacturing. The world has come together as one to fight this virus that threatens to annihilate the human race. In times like this technology is our best bet for a cure. Until then the importance of personal hygiene and social distancing is our only hope to stay alive and come out victorious.