“We know that there are a lot of drugs that target different genes, and we are particularly interested in, for example, can we repurpose some of these drugs to treat different types of viruses, including COVID-19?” said Wei Li (pictured), principal investigator at the Center for Genetic Medicine Research & Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at Children’s National Medical Center.
Li spoke with Stu Miniman, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, during the AWS Public Sector Summit event. They discussed how the genome project can help combat COVID-19, as well as the role of AWS technology tools in scientific research. (* Disclosure below.)
Technology optimizes data processing and analysis
The Children’s National Medical Center has been using computational biology and gene editing approaches to understand human genome and disease, and it is particularly interested in a gene-editing technology called CRISPR screening, according to Li, who has a research background in computer science.
“This is a fascinating … technology because it tells you whether one of the 20,000 human genes are connected with some certain disease phenotype in one single experiment,” he said. “We are trying to, for example, perform machine-learning and data-mining approaches to find new clues of human disease from the original mix and screening big data.”
CRISPR screening and other similar screening methods have been widely used in recent years by several research laboratories to study virus infections, such as those related to HIV, Ebola, influenza and now coronavirus, according to Li. Then, the team at the Children’s National Medical Center had an idea: to connect all the sets of screening data related to these viruses to try to extract new information that cannot be identified in a single study.
“Can we identify new patterns or new human genes that are commonly responsible for many different virus types? Or can we find some genes that work only from some certain type of viruses?” he asked.
Researchers use AWS technology to process and analyze huge amount of data sets, in addition to creating an integrated database in the cloud, so that research results can be freely accessed around the world. It is estimated that AWS technology can reduce the time to process screening data from months to days, according to Li.
Two major benefits are expected from the outcome of this research project.
“The first thing is that we hope to find some genes that can be potentially drug targets. So, if there are existing drugs that target the genes, then that would be perfect, because we don’t need to do anything about this,” he explained. “And, in the end, we hope that these drugs can have the broad antiviral … activity; that means that … these drugs can be potentially used to treat COVID-19 and … in the future if there’s a new virus coming out.”
Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the AWS Public Sector Summit event. (* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for the AWS Public Sector Summit Online event. Neither Amazon Web Services Inc., the sponsor for theCUBE’s event coverage, nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)
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