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Research: Using AI, scientists develop new method to counter mutations in coronavirus

Vaccine design cycles that once took months or years can be accomplished in seconds and minutes with the machine-learning model, the study says.

By: Explained Desk |
Updated: February 10, 2021 8:29:01 am
Using artificial intelligence, the research team developed a method to speed the analysis of vaccines and zero in on the best potential preventive medical therapy. (AP)

Researchers have developed a new method to counter emergent mutations of the coronavirus and say it can hasten vaccine development to stop the pathogen. The study, from the University of Southern California (USC), is published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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Using artificial intelligence, the research team developed a method to speed the analysis of vaccines and zero in on the best potential preventive medical therapy. The study says the method is easily adaptable to analyse potential mutations of the virus, ensuring the best possible vaccines are quickly identified. Vaccine design cycles that once took months or years can be accomplished in seconds and minutes with the machine-learning model, the study says.

“This AI framework, applied to the specifics of this virus, can provide vaccine candidates within seconds and move them to clinical trials quickly to achieve preventive medical therapies without compromising safety Moreover, this can be adapted to help us stay ahead of the coronavirus as it mutates around the world,” the USC quoted Paul Bogdan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and corresponding author of the study, saying.

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When applied to SARS-CoV-2, the computer model quickly eliminated 95% of the compounds that could have possibly treated the pathogen and pinpointed the best options, the study says. The AI-assisted method predicted 26 potential vaccines that would work against the coronavirus. From those, the scientists identified the best 11 from which to construct a multi-epitope (-region) vaccine, which can attack the spike proteins that the coronavirus uses to infect a host cell.

Engineers can construct a new multi-epitope vaccine for a new virus in less than a minute and validate its quality within an hour, the USC said. By contrast, current processes to control the virus require growing the pathogen in the lab, deactivating it and injecting the virus that caused a disease. The process is time-consuming and takes more than one year; meanwhile, the disease spreads.

The USC noted that its AI-assisted method will be especially useful during this stage of the pandemic as the coronavirus begins to mutate in populations around the world. Some scientists are concerned that the mutations may minimise the effectiveness of vaccines that are now being distributed. Recent variants of the virus that have emerged in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil seem to spread more easily.

But the researchers said that if SARS-CoV-2 becomes uncontrollable by current vaccines, or if new vaccines are needed to deal with other emerging viruses, then the method can be used to design other preventive mechanisms quickly. “The proposed vaccine design framework can tackle the three most frequently observed mutations and be extended to deal with other potentially unknown mutations,” Bogdan was quoted as saying.

Source: University of Southern California

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