/Artificial Intelligence Is Predicting Future COVID-19 Strains, Developing Treatments

Artificial Intelligence Is Predicting Future COVID-19 Strains, Developing Treatments

Summary: Artificial intelligence in particular has emerged as a useful new tool to not only beat back the viral mutations, but to also stop them before they can spread at all.

Original author and publication date: Andy Hirschfeld – March 16, 2021

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Let’s be careful about how much we delegate on AI to the point of turning ourselves useless.

From the article:

It was just over a year ago that then-President Donald Trump officially declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency. New York City was the epicenter of what would become the most tragic public health crisis in a century. Today, the United States alone has lost over 535,000 lives to COVID-19, with nearly 30 million Americans infected overall.

Mass distribution of vaccines is providing relief to Americans, but the mutation of the virus troubles scientists and medical professionals, who are using new technology in an all-out race to predict and stop the deadly transformations from wreaking havoc on an already devastated world. Artificial intelligence in particular has emerged as a useful new tool to not only beat back the viral mutations, but to also stop them before they can spread at all.

Some new strains of the COVID-19 virus have proven no more deadly or transmissible than the original, but others that are far more contiguous. The world at large first became acquainted with these offshoots through the South African strain, which was found to be 70 percent more transmissible than the initial virus. According to JAMA, it was first identified in December 2020 and now cases have been detected in 41 different countries. It also raised concerns about reinfection. According to a recent study, this mutation has been able to evade antibodies in patients who had previous strains of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian strain has been found capable of re-infecting COVID-19 survivors. It also reportedly can make the vaccines somewhat less effective, though they still retain a very high efficacy. This strain was first detected in four Brazilian travelers en route to Japan. Upon arrival at Tokyo Haneda Airport. It was first identified in the U.S. in January.

This strain has been identified in 80 countries. It was first identified in the U.S. in December and cases have since been recorded in 33 different states according to JAMA. A strain first identified in New York City, meanwhile, accounts for more than half of the current cases in the city. Reportedly, this strain is more contagious than the U.K. strain but not nearly as deadly. The California strain, on the other hand, is raising even higher levels of concern. Reportedly, this strain is much more deadly than the others. According to preliminary research from the University of California – San Francisco published in Science Magazine, patients are more likely to end up in the ICU and 11 times more likely to die.

While this is remarkably positive, there are still massive looming questions — what if a new strain appears that can evade the vaccine and/or our current treatments? What are hospitals and drug manufacturers to do? Researchers around the country are racing to get ahead of the problem, using artificial intelligence to do so.

At MIT, a team of researchers is using a kind of artificial intelligence that is called natural language processing. Typically it’s used to predict grammatical sequences and semantics. But rather than punching in the collections of words, a la chatbots, text extraction and auto-correct technology, the MIT team is plugging genetic sequences into its algorithms.

The artificial intelligence here identifies patterns that signal how mutations may develop. Using that model, they’re able to help drug manufacturers get ahead of the next variant of COVID-19.

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