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Groundbreaking Research Focused on COVID-19

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PRESSING QUESTIONS

Our community of researchers is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic

Here are some examples of new COVID-19 research directions from over 100 projects we’ve heard about among our fellows, chairs, scholars, and advisors:

Alán Aspuru-Guzik (Fellow, Bio-inspired Solar Energy, Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) is scaling therapeutic molecules, new soaps and coatings, and inhibitors for its reproduction machinery – Aspuru-Guzik is also leading a project to use active learning models to find the most effective surfactants and surface coatings for reducing viral lifetimes. The goal is to reduce their lifetimes to under one hour.

The teams of Yoshua Bengio (Co-director, Learning in Machines & Brains, Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila), Jian Tang (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila), graduate student Maksym Korablyov (Université de Montréal), and the Mila startup InVivo AI, has developed a deep reinforcement learning system which can quickly evaluate billions of candidate molecules. The approach can gradually modify the molecular structure by adding or removing building blocks in order to converge toward new molecular structures that can bind a target protein.

Arturo Casadevall (Fungal Kingdom, Johns Hopkins University) is developing a treatment for COVID-19 based on the antibodies of survivors, extracted from blood serum. The treatment has been approved for compassionate use by the US Food and Drug Administration. The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project is now asking for plasma donations from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

Eran Elinav (Humans & the Microbiome, Weizmann Institute) has converted his institute’s robotics and microbiology expertise to set up a fully-automated, high-throughput SARS-CoV-2 detection system, capable of screening 20,000 diagnostic samples in one run of a few hours. He expects calibrations to be complete the week of March 30, followed by a roll-out to test Israelis, and then sharing the process globally.

David Fleet (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) and a team of researchers have developed a software program that led to the first 3D mapping of the Coronavirus.

Naama Geva-Zatorsky (CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar, Humans & the Microbiome) is developing a rapid, inexpensive and simple home test kit for coronavirus to be used in Israel. The team is developing a protocol that enables adaptation for home testing with results in less than an hour.

Marzyeh Ghassemi (CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar, Learning in Machines & Brains, Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) is using AI for screening and risk stratification of COVID-19 patients  with CT/X-ray data.

Allison Harell (Boundaries, Membership & Belonging, Université de Québec à Montréal) and her team at the Consortium on Electoral Democracy fielded survey questions in Canada at the end of March about levels of fear, personal social distancing behaviour, norms around social distancing, and satisfaction with governments’ handling of the pandemic. Results from the government satisfaction portion of the survey are discussed in this article in Policy Options. 

Susan Helper (Innovation, Equity & the Future of Prosperity, Case Western Reserve University) is providing advice on the best economic policy options available. She has written articles on how hotels and car manufacturers could be repurposed to fight COVID-19, how the US supply chain must change, and articulated broad principles for economic policy during this time. She has also given a talk on the economic impact of coronavirus.

Evan Lieberman (Boundaries, Membership & Belonging, MIT) co-authored a white paper on solidarity, shedding light on the nature of social solidarity and how it might be effectively built and maintained in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arthur McDonald (Gravity & the Extreme Universe, Queen’s University) has organized a team of dark matter scientists at TRIUMF, Chalk River and SNOLAB to build 30,000 ventilators for patients with COVID-19. They are partnering with an international collaboration of dark matter scientists who are applying their experience with gas handling systems and complex control systems to create ventilators that will be small and highly portable, so they can be easily shipped between care sites. The ventilator has been approved for emergency use by the United States Food and Drug Administration and is now awaiting approval by Health Canada.

Quaid Morris (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) is using AI to explore ways to analyze COVID-19 sequences.

Reihaneh Rabbany (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila) is using data mining of COVID-19 related tweets to discover temporal and spatial trends, as well as common mentions and keywords linked to COVID-19.

Irina Rish (Canada CIFAR AI Chair,Mila) and Guy Wolf (Université de Montréal) are leading a project which leverages data analysis to provide mechanistic understanding of COVID-19 disease progression in order to assess the risk of given medical/patient profiles, as well as to help identify binding targets for antiviral agents and potential vaccines. 

Bo Wang (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Vector Institute) and collaborators at Vector Institute have released a scientific paper search tool to help with the COVID-19 crisis.The tool provides the most up-to-date capture of relevant research papers to aid researchers around the world. 

Frank Wood (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila) and his collaborators at the PLAI research group at UBC have produced the paper Planning as Inference in Epidemiological Models. The research demonstrates how existing software tools can be used to automate parts of infectious disease-control policy-making via performing inference in existing epidemiological dynamics models.

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