As the world comes to a standstill due to the unprecedented outbreak of Covid-19, Bangladesh seems to be on the losing end of the fight, with the health experts pressing for immediate action to contain the catastrophe.
Although the more technologically advanced countries such as USA and Italy have been struggling with managing their health services limitations, there are also remarkable accounts on how they are containing this pandemic.
With the advancement of science and technology, it is now imperative to identify and characterise any pathogen at a molecular level.
Demystifying the genome structure and organisation are crucial to understanding the actual origin of any new virus or bacteria. With the support of advanced computational biological tools and ICT professionals, biologists can now conduct genome data analysis of any microbe within the shortest possible time.
The first case of Covid-19 outbreak was identified using genome data analysis and now many more genomic datasets or information are submitted every day in publicly accessible databases like PubMed/ DDBJ etc.
The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now a reality and, fortunately, there are hundreds of biotech researchers inside Bangladesh who have the requisite knowledge and experience of using different bioinformatics tools to conduct research and employ innovation to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.
How can ICT and life science go hand-in-hand?
Has it ever occurred to us how technology and life sciences can work in tandem?
Bioinformatics in Bangladesh is a relatively young field of computational and biotechnological collaborative research, which can prompt optimal use of biological data to solve various biological problems.
It is high time that the concerned authorities acknowledged the importance of Covid-19 related bioinformatics research that local scientists are conducting, in collaboration with international researchers, to comprehend the nature and evolution of the novel Covid-19.
The information will ultimately be used by the wider scientific community and might be invaluable towards the development of a possible vaccine and help us design an effective treatment procedure.
The bioinformatics pipeline will help doctors determine the causes of infections that are not detectable by other tests, thereby streamlining the path to successful clinical outcomes.
How can AI help in tracking Covid-19?
Using the expertise of data scientists in various ways, Artificial Intelligence can also play a key role in supporting this battle.
BlueDot, a Toronto-based AI outbreak risk startup, had predicted a "mysterious pneumonia strain" in China's Wuhan city.
The system was modelled to monitor numerous news articles and air traffic information, which foresaw the parallels shared with the SARS 2003 outbreak.
They were successful in sending alerts on 31 December about the new coronavirus outbreak -- a few days before major public health authorities made official statements.
Both AI and big data analytics can play an important role in modern sequencing methodologies. High-resolution computer-generated simulation allows scientists to study and interpret large disease-related data sets to learn more about how they spread.
A greater understanding of these phenomena can empower the community to report rapidly on attacks.
In a country like Bangladesh, we can also use similar technologies to assess mass movement in a specific area and might be able to develop some models to predict the various risk zones in different large cities and neighbourhoods, which may help the authorities and health workers in preparedness in the wake of any large scale incidence of Covid-19 cases.
What is the recent trend in data science?
The recent trend of accessing a large number of next generation sequence data freely from websites has created immense opportunities for data scientists and researchers.
Researchers are now increasingly attracted to use different tools and software to model different scenarios connected to the emergence, re-emergence, risks, impact assessments, transmission patterns and other attributes.
This was possible thanks to the availability of the high-speed internet and datasets, along with numerous free online web-based tools, that are available in our fingertips.
In the absence of any high-performance supercomputers, we can easily collaborate with international researchers to use their server or cloud computing facility with minimum or no cost.
We now need to focus on developing a new generation of data scientists who can work closely with ICT professionals to develop suitable disease models or tools, that can be invaluable in restructuring the healthcare sector of Bangladesh and ensuring reliable public health research in any national emergencies.
Big Data analysis's contribution to healthcare is personalized medicine and prescriptive analytics, clinical risk intervention, predictive analytics, patient external and internal automated information reports and patient registries and fragmented point solutions.
It is important to thoroughly analyse the symptomatology of each patient's disease for avoidance.
To develop the Evidence-Based Care System, every patient in the treatment data must be documented.
Informed strategic planning is being designed using open-source medical data and providing free public health data.
With this, one can easily find out about common diseases in any region. This information is very important for health planners and will help them adopt proper healthcare plans.
As AI and applied computational bioinformatics quickly mainstream, healthcare will definitely be an area where it can be the key enabler in ensuring our health and safety.
In hopes of bringing computer scientists and biologists together to use big-data analysis, we must focus on building the right skill sets in treating global pandemics.
The authors - Dr. AMAM Zonaed Siddiki, Montaha Chowdhury & Masum Billah, Anamul Kabir - are working for NextGen Informatics Pvt Ltd., a genome-based data science company