The Role of Artificial Intelligence in the Development of the Covid-19 Vaccine
The global pandemic threatened our health and affected our social life negatively. The development of an effective vaccine was the main goal. We discuss the role of AI in the development of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The most important issue on the global agenda for nearly two years has been the pandemic. When Covid-19 emerged, which caused radical changes in our current living conditions and most importantly seriously threatened our health, it was a great test for humanity to make the most effective solutions as soon as possible. Urgent actions had to be taken to protect people’s health and return to normal life as soon as possible. The crucial step was to discover an effective vaccine method and carry out the vaccination process in the most accurate way. However, there was not enough information about the virus, its symptoms, and its possible consequences. These conditions have been an opportunity to take advantage of data science, machine learning, and multiple data-driven AI-powered methods to explore this unfamiliar virus and its effects and predict and manage scenarios caused by the crisis. In the process of understanding the disease and developing the vaccine, advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms were used to evaluate the growing data we have with Covid-19.
Artificial Intelligence Based Modelling in Vaccine Development Process
Natural language processing models, a sub-branch of artificial intelligence, have an important role in the discovery of the Covid-19 vaccine. The researchers used modelling to understand the virus and its structure and predict which immune response a potential treatment would trigger. In this way, it was aimed to select the potential vaccine method and vaccine contents. Moreover, the results obtained are aimed to use for understanding the experimental data. By evaluating both daily life and experimental data together with artificial intelligence methods, insights were obtained that guide the discovery of the virus and the development of the treatment, as well as determine the methods against possible mutations.
To understand how these models are used when developing vaccines, it is necessary to understand how vaccines work. In its simplest definition, vaccines prepare the immune system in case of ingestion of the virus by exposing the body to a pathogen (we can define it as disease-causing microbes) without making us ill. This is done by injecting certain parts of the disease-causing virus or attenuated versions of it. However, for any virus, there are too many different subcomponents of proteins that the immune system can recognize, and therefore there are many different possibilities for a vaccine. To calculate these possibilities, artificial intelligence comes into play. The predictions of the genome sequencing and protein structure of the coronavirus by artificial intelligence-based systems have shortened a research process that could normally take more than a year. At the beginning of the pandemic, researchers at the University of Basel used a protein modelling tool called Swiss-Model to predict the structures of proteins on the outer surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the results revealed that the predictions were consistent with the actual protein structures of the virus. Based on datasets from known proteins by using machine learning, which virus parts the immune system is most likely to recognize was predicted. Under normal circumstances, this process involves growing the protein in the laboratory, inactivating it, and injecting the disease-causing virus, and this process generally takes more than a year. In the current pandemic conditions, which caused a major health crisis and brought global economies and social life to a standstill, this period could have caused major problems. With artificial intelligence technology, this discovery time could be completed in minutes or even seconds with modelling methods and became ready for clinical experiments. With this modelling method, it is estimated that accurate predictions are made with more than 70,000 different proteins in the model’s dataset. Artificial intelligence tools revealed the best options at this point and predicted 26 potential vaccines that would work against the coronavirus.
Prevention Against Mutated Virus
The virus is mutating constantly, and the delta variant has already caused a new global concern. Therefore, artificial intelligence is used to monitor and analyse possible mutations of the virus and to develop vaccines in this way. In this situation where immediate action is required, the best possibilities need to be revealed by modelling and calculation methods. Therefore, artificial intelligence algorithms come into play to track the genetic mutations of the virus over time and to discover rapid vaccine development methods against potential viruses.
Artificial Intelligence Will Now Play an Important Role in Vaccine Studies
These successes achieved by artificial intelligence-based methods during the pandemic period also guided scientists in the development of vaccines for other diseases such as cancer and which method should be followed in case of a new pandemic. Laboratory experiments are still the most important phase of the vaccine development process. However, the process of determining the possibilities in vaccine production, which takes a long time, is concluded in a very short time with the support of artificial intelligence. Therefore proceeding to the laboratory tests phase in a very short time has a significant impact on the management of this crisis process. We may consider that artificial intelligence’s contribution to the vaccine process as one of the most valuable examples of this technology makes our lives easier in many aspects.