27 September 2023

Deep therapy: How Google’s DeepMind has joined the fight against COVID-19

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Bani Sapra* says Google’s DeepMind has shared AI-generated predictions about the coronavirus that could help researchers stem the global outbreak.

DeepMind, Google’s AI unit, is joining the global effort learn more about COVID-19, as the disease’s toll spreads rapidly throughout much of the world.

The UK-based team just used DeepMind’s new deep learning system to share its predictions about the protein structures of the coronavirus, which causes the disease.

The system uses a machine-learning technique known as “free modelling” to help it predict protein structures when no similar structures of protein are available.

Scientists around the world are racing to learn more about the new coronavirus that has swept through China and spread across 86 other countries, at last count.

DeepMind’s findings hope to cut down on months of effort typically used to determine the protein structure of a virus.

“Knowing a protein’s structure provides an important resource for understanding how it functions, but experiments to determine the structure can take months or longer, and some prove to be intractable,” a blog post announcing the findings noted.

And given the “potential seriousness and time sensitivity of the situation”, DeepMind said that it is skipping the process of experimentally verifying the findings or waiting for it to be peer-reviewed by an academic journal before publication.

That’s in line with other scientific research that has been appearing in both peer-reviewed journals and pre-print servers without peer review, since that process can take months.

“We emphasise that these structure predictions have not been experimentally verified, but hope they may contribute to the scientific community’s interrogation of how the virus functions, and serve as a hypothesis generation platform for future experimental work in developing therapeutics,” the blog post said.

“Normally we’d wait to publish this work until it had been peer-reviewed for an academic journal.”

“However, given the potential seriousness and time-sensitivity of the situation, we’re releasing the predicted structures as we have them now, under an open licence so that anyone can make use of them.”

The open licence will allow any researcher to build on, adapt or share DeepMind’s findings.

Google acquired the London-based research entity DeepMind for £400 million (A$796 million) back in 2014.

The company has previously used AI to push advances in healthcare, developing models for identifying eye diseases and detecting neck cancer.

* Bani Sapra writes about tech for Business Insider. She tweets at @bani_sapra.

This article first appeared at www.businessinsider.com.au.

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