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The role of big data, machine learning and 3D printers to help alleviate the effects of Covid-19



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Around the world, researchers, innovators and organisations are putting aside their differences and joining forces to create technology to alleviate the effects of the pandemic. This can be seen in the form of mobile applications that are being used to track and spread of the virus to 3D printed ventilators to help combat the short supply of supportive breathing devices in hospitals. There are a range of different technology projects that are rising up to the occasion in the fight against coronavirus. 

The outbreak of the virus has indeed sparked and unleashed a deployment of resources. Putting their full weight behind the infection, scientific and technology communities have been working endlessly to find solutions that can help life restore to normality and save lives, mitigating the impact of the worldwide pandemic for all. 

In a short space of time, several resources and knowledge-sharing opportunities have come to the forefront to help tackle some of the challenges that are being presented by the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Many different types of technologies are being implemented to measure the progression of the disease and its range. Doing so helps healthcare organisations access the supplies they urgently need in the areas most affected. Here’s a look at some of the innovative ideas that are being used to improve the current crisis.

Understanding the virus using big data

To help fight the virus, we need to be able to understand how it works. We need to get a full picture of how it behaves, allowing us to define measures to help stop the spread of it. An open-source project by Nextstrain provides data, sequencing and visualisations which show the evolution of the virus pathogens. This kind of information can help epidemiologists understand how the virus can evolve across different countries and identify its possible mutations that can change the nature of the virus altogether. The project has helped scientists observe the virus, and by sharing the genetic sequencing of 700 cases, they have been able to identify that the virus has not changed according to geography and location. Meaning, all instances and strains of the virus around the world are identical. 

Finding therapy through machine learning 

By using quality data that is available, such as the one from the Nextstrain project above, artificial intelligence could be a powerful tool to use to help predict the diseases future trends and how it will mutate. Doing so will help develop treatments, stopping the virus in its tracks. AbCellera, a biotechnology firm are using machine learning models to develop therapies which are based on antidotes traced from patients who have successfully recovered from the disease. The organisation is using AI technology to help amylase over five million immune cells, searching for the ones that can successfully produce antibodies to help patients recover. The role of technology today is enormous, and AI has helped to identify 500 antibodies as possible Covid-19 therapies for the future. 

Telemedicine to help keep hospitals afloat

As hospitals around the globe deal with an overwhelming influx of covid positive patients, telemedicine is one of the alternatives that is being used to help communicate with non-covid-19 patients. Telemedicine is transforming and streamlining an antiquated process making it faster and more efficient, not forgetting to mention, making it easier for patients. To see a health professional, patients just have to log into an app on their smartphone to communicate with their doctors. They can describe their symptoms and wait for the doctor to give them advice via virtual consultation. Many examples of this are already in use around the world. For example, a Seville based company in Spain named Open Salud, which translates to open health, have launched a complimentary teleconsultation platform. The platform allows any doctor or health professional to determine the best treatment for patients without face to face meetings. 

3D printers for breathing devices

The nature of the virus means ventilators have become essential equipment for treating patients of Covid-19. However, the rate of infected people has surpassed the number of machines available, thus leading to a shortage of supplies. To help combat the problem, many different communities around the world have set up open communication channels to help share open-sourcing designs, which can increase the manufacturing of ventilators and the 3D printing community is one of them. Using this information will allow anyone with a 3D printer to print necessary respirator components to be used successfully. Mercedes Benz has also created a breathing device with open-source data which is freely available to enable the replication of the device to be made all over the world. 

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