Generally known as the application of IT to organise and use biological information in fields such as evolutionary biology, bioinformatics is an ever-growing field of research. With covid-19 dominating the headlines and consuming much of the healthcare industry, we wanted to take a look at how bioinformatics is aiding the battle against coronavirus, and the race for a vaccine.
Using bioinformatics to search for treatments
When it comes to accelerating the fight against coronavirus, bioinformatics is an indispensable tool for the research centres that have experimental laboratories. We’re currently seeing bioinformatics being used to research the virus and its possible treatments, analyse the coronavirus genome and its successive mutations, and it’s also being used to search for drugs and immune therapies, such as antibodies and vaccines.
What role does genomics play?
Studying the coronavirus and understanding how it has evolved through different epidemics such as SARS in 2003, and MERS in 2012 is vital, as this enables us to see how the virus can pass between species, and understand what changes it has to undergo to make this transmission possible.
It’s a useful way of shedding light on the virus transmissions, and also the mechanisms used to interact with both our immune system and that of other species – and this is crucial in the search for treatments and similarly, the prevention and prediction of eventual future outbreaks.
The genomic code essentially lays out a blueprint of the virus and its features; there are now a huge amount of virus sequences, and being able to assess the evolutionary distance between these data points and visualise the virus helps researchers to learn more about the different virus strains, including where they came from and how they continue to evolve.
Bioinformatics in the search for treatments
There is a research process known as ‘docking’, and this consists of simulating the coronavirus and its interactions with different molecules that could be used to create a vaccine, antibody treatments and drug treatments.
For this process to happen, researchers will take the data gathered from the research of the virus’ genome, information on the structures of its proteins, and data on the drugs and other inorganic molecules that could be used to create a viable treatment.
The first phase of this research requires time and investment, and the amount needed can be reduced greatly by drug screening, as this aids with finding and validating disease treatments and vaccines.
AI can analyse the spread and social impact of the pandemic
Artificial intelligence is being used to analyse the socioeconomic impact of the virus locally and globally, with the emphasis being firmly placed on social distancing. The aim is to determine impact indicators, patterns and statistics that serve the UN and local authorities in taking better and faster measurements, which will ultimately help slow the spread of the virus.
While we can’t know precisely when there will be a treatment or vaccine available for this new strain of the coronavirus, it’s clear to see just how important a role bioinformatics and genomics have in the fight against this pandemic. Covid-19 has disrupted the world and changed the way we look at healthcare technology, and the race is on to find a vaccine.