Two University of Victoria COVID-19 research projects aimed at finding solutions to the ongoing pandemic will receive funding from a digital tech group.
On Tuesday, the Digital Technology Supercluster, a network of hundreds of businesses from across Canada, announced that its $60-million COVID-19 program now includes projects that provide nationwide “solutions to urgent health care needs” stemming from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“These projects focus on delivering digital solutions, including handheld diagnosis devices for use in rural and remote communities, virtual health care services – vital to protect patients from risk of infection – a forecasting model that accurately predicts mutations of the COVID-19 virus, and a platform that uses artificial intelligence to quickly identify new treatments,” DTS said in a press release.
As a result, two projects – one involving antibody design using artificial intelligence and another focusing on providing safe and effective home care during COVID-19 – at the University of Victoria (UVic) will receive funding from DTS, according to a release from the school.
“The pandemic has affected how we live, work and interact in our communities. We may not be able to change what is going on around us, but we can control how we react to it,” says Lisa Kalynchuk, UVic’s vice-president of research. “I am proud that UVic researchers are finding solutions that can potentially help our province and country emerge from the current situation with new knowledge that benefits society.”
The project involving antibody design using artificial intelligence will use AI to “fast-track the complex task” of developing antibodies needed for a vaccine and effective treatments for COVID-19 and is a joint effort between the university and Variational AI and Zymeworks, according to UVic.
“Using a technique known as X-ray crystallography, our research team will generate 3D maps of the computer-designed antibodies,” says Martin Boulanger, a biochemistry professor at UVic.
The school says the AI-powered platform will eventually help to “identify new treatments to protect Canadians against COVID-19” and other diseases, which, they say will save time and money.
“In some ways this process can be considered a form of cartography where mapping the surface of a protein is similar to mapping landscape topography. The final map will provide valuable insights into the computer models and how well the custom-designed antibodies can be used to treat COVID-19 and other serious diseases,” Boulanger added.
The other project, which focuses on home care patients and caregivers, will focus on increasing “the functionality of an existing digital toolkit used by AlayaCare, and accelerate the ability to deliver the COVID-19 specific functions including alerting service providers in real-time about symptomatic employees or patients,” according to UVic.