• Sunday, Jul 05, 2020
  • Last Update : 01:33 am

OP-ED: The next step for pandemic research

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Photo: Bigstock

How AI can provide solutions for the future

As the world stands still due to the unprecedented cases of the novel coronavirus, Bangladesh seems to be at an unpredictable stage, and health experts are claiming that if we do not take the appropriate action now, we might be fighting a losing war.

We are witnessing more technologically advanced countries like the US and Italy struggling with the management of health services,but there are remarkable stories on how they are containing this pandemic. With the advancement of science and technology, it is now more realistic to identify and characterize any pathogens at a molecular level.

The genome structure and organization are crucial to learn the actual origin of any new virus or bacteria, and considering the large amount of data to be generated within the shortest possible time,  one can easily analyze the data using advanced computational biological tools. The support of large computer servers and ICT professionals can therefore help biologists explore the actual origin and source at the earliest possible time.

This is how the first case of Covid-19 outbreak was identified using genome data analysis and now many more genomic datasets or information are submitted everyday in publicly accessible databases like PubMed/ DDBJ etc. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a reality and fortunately there are hundreds of biotech researchers inside Bangladesh who have skills and experiences to use different bioinformatics tools in conducting research and innovation using AI to combat Covid-19 outbreak.


ICT and life sciences go hand-in-hand

When it comes to the applications of bioinformatics in Bangladesh,it is a relatively young field of computational and biotechnological collaborative research for optimal use of biological data to solve various biological problems.

It is high time that the authorities concerned appreciate the importance of Covid-19 related bioinformatics research that local scientists are able to conduct in collaboration with international researchers to comprehend the nature and the evolution of the novel Covid-19. The information will ultimately be used by the wider scientific community and might be invaluable towards the development of a possible vaccine or might help us design an effective treatment procedure.

The bioinformatics pipeline will help doctors and their patients determine the causes of infections that are not detectable by other tests,thereby streamlining the path to successful clinical outcomes.


The role of AI

Using the expertise of data scientists, Artificial Intelligence or AI as people know it, can also play a key role in supporting this battle. Blue Dot, a Toronto-based AI outbreak risk start-up, had predicted a “mysterious pneumonia strain” in China’s Wuhan city. The system was modelled to shift through numerous news articles and air traffic information and foresaw the parallels shared with the SARS 2003 outbreak.

They were successful in sending alerts on December 31 about the new coronavirus outbreak -- a few days before major public health authorities made official statements. Both AI and big data analytics can play an important role in modern sequencing methodologies.

High-resolution computer-generated simulations allow scientists to study and interpret large disease-related data sets to learn more about how they spread.A greater understanding of these phenomena can empower the community to report rapidly. In a country like Bangladesh, we can also use similar technologies to assess mass movement in a specific area and might develop some models to predict the various risk zones in different large cities and neighbourhoods, which may help the authorities and health workers to take early preparation in the wake of any large scale incidence of Covid-19 cases.


The trend of data science

The recent trend of accessing a large number of next generation sequence data freely from websites has created immense opportunities for data scientists and researchers. Researchers are now increasingly attracted to use different tools and software to model different scenarios connected to the emergence, re-emergence, risks, impact assessments, transmission patterns,and other attributes, thanks to the availability of high-speed internet and datasets along with numerous free online web-based tools that are available at our fingertips.

In the absence of any high-performance super computers,we can easily collaborate with international researchers to use their server or cloud computing facility with minimum or no cost. We now need to focus on developing a new generation of data scientists who can work closely with ICT professionals to develop suitable disease models or tools that can be invaluable in restructuring the health care sector of Bangladesh and ensure reliable public health research in any national emergencies like this Covid-19 outbreak.

Big Data analytic’s contribution to health care is personalized medicine and prescriptive analytics, clinical risk intervention and predictive analytics, patient external and internal automated information reports, and patient registries and fragmented point solutions.

It is important to thoroughly analyze the symptomatology of each patient’s disease for avoidance. To develop the Evidence-Based Care System, every patient in the treatment data must be documented. Informed Strategic Planning is being designed using open-source medical data and providing free public health data. With this, one can easily find out about common diseases in any region. This information is very important for health planners and will help them to adopt proper healthcare plans.

As AI and applied computational bioinformatics quickly become mainstream, health care is definitely an area where it can be the key player in keeping us healthier and safer. In hopes of bringing computer scientists and biologists together to use big data analysis we must focus on building the right skill sets in treating global pandemics.

Dr AMAM Zonaed Siddiki, Montaha Chowdhury, Masum Billah, and Anamul Kabir are working for NextGen InformaticsPvt Ltd, a genome-based data science company.

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