The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruptions in peoples’ personal lives and virtually all sectors of the economy. Until everybody will be fully vaccinated, there will continue to be a fear of leaving your home and certain lockdown restrictions will continue to be in place. In addition to a vaccine, many countries are using various AI technologies to help in the fight against COVID-19 which is spurring the development of new AI products. Let’s take a look at some of the AI-powered solutions that are helping medical professionals tackle the Coronavirus.
Adding Value to Healthcare Through AI
AI can be of tremendous value to medical professionals in the area of medical imaging such as CT scans and X-rays, by offering radiologists greater insights and helping them make a more accurate diagnosis. Thanks to the advancements in machine learning, AI systems can analyze complex images to identify particular objects and patterns that may go undetected by the human eye. China, which was one of the hardest-hit countries by the Coronavirus, is already reaping great dividends from their investments in AI as far back as 2017 when they announced the first-ever national AI champions, which happened to be a company called Tencent Holdings. In 2017 they launched the Miying healthcare AI platform that helps healthcare professionals diagnose various types of cancers and analyze and manage healthcare records.
Today Tencent is a huge conglomerate that comes out with all kinds of AI products. Recently they made their COVID-19 self-triage assistant open source. Another Chinese company, Yitu launched an AI-Powered Intelligent Evaluation System of Chest CT for COVID-19 last year. It is the first AI-equipped diagnostic assistant, which significantly improves efficiency in identifying coronavirus through automatic detection and quantitative analysis within 2-3 seconds and also takes a lot of the burden off the shoulders of doctors.
How AI is Assisting Researchers in the Development of a Vaccine
We mentioned earlier that one of the biggest of AI is that it makes higher-order correlations that a human wouldn’t be capable of making. A great example of this is the work done by Benevolent AI. They have an enormous database of biomedical information and they used machine learning to identify two human protein targets to focus on, AP2-associated protein kinase 1 (AAK1) and cycling-associated kinase (GAK). These kinases mediate endocytosis—a process by which cells engulf things, including viruses—and, if disrupted, might make it harder for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to get into human cells. After this phase was completed, they used another algorithm to find existing drugs that could hit the protein targets. Thanks to AI, all of the above-mentioned work was done in a matter of days.
Earlier this year a team of researchers from MIT announced that they had used machine learning to identify medications that may be repurposed to fight COVID-19. This could be a big development in the fight against the Coronavirus since developing new drugs is a very long and arduous process given all of the research, testing, and approval processes involved. It should be noted that in addition to finding a cure, AI is actively used by health professionals all over the world to create new products that help diagnose, manage and treat the Coronavirus. It also helps researchers understand how it spreads, areas that are likely to be affected, and a lot of other important information.
Protecting Hospital Staff Against Possible Infections
According to recent research, during the first three months of the pandemic, patient-facing healthcare workers were three times more likely to be admitted with covid-19 than non-patient-facing healthcare workers. This has prompted companies to create AI-powered robots that could replace human health workers interacting with patients. An interesting example of such technology is being used at Antwerp University Hospital which uses a robot developed by ZoraBots that greets incoming patients, checks their temperature, and makes sure they are wearing masks. While this is already pretty advanced technology, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Hospitals nowadays are looking to do more with less and robots could be the perfect solution to this problem.
AI is Playing a Decisive Role in the Fight Against COVID-19
Researchers have made exponential progress in the development of AI products over the past decade and the ongoing pandemic has only accelerated this process. We have looked at some of the ways AI is helping to create a safe vaccine and diagnose patients with COVID-19, but it is also helping to prevent the further spread of the Coronavirus. It is not only during the pandemic but it has always complemented the work of the healthcare industry. It is one of the few resources that can allow for a cost-effective, less time-consuming method to develop vaccines and treatment to help us fight the Coronavirus.