An international research team led by scientists at Georgetown University have demonstrated the power of artificial intelligence to predict which viruses could infect humans — like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that led to the COVID-19 pandemic — which animals host them, and where they could emerge.
Their ensemble of predictive models of likely reservoir hosts, published January 10 in Lancet Microbe (“Optimizing predictive models to prioritize viral discovery in zoonotic reservoirs”), was validated in an 18-month project to identify specific bat species likely to carry betacoronaviruses, the group that includes SARS-like viruses.
“If you want to find these viruses, you have to start by profiling their hosts — their ecology, their evolution, even the shape of their wings,” explains the study’s senior author, Colin Carlson, PhD, an assistant research professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology and a member of Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. “Artificial intelligence lets us take data on bats and turn it into concrete predictions: where should we be looking for the next SARS?”
Despite global investments in disease surveillance, it remains difficult to identify and monitor wildlife reservoirs of viruses that could someday infect humans. Statistical models are increasingly being used to prioritize which wildlife species to sample in the field, but the predictions being generated from any one model can be highly uncertain. Scientists also rarely track the success or failure of their predictions after they make them, making it hard to learn and make better models in the future. Together, these limitations mean that there is high uncertainty in which models may be best suited to the task.
This new study suggests that the search for closely-related viruses could be non-trivial, with over 400 bat species around the world predicted to host betacoronaviruses, a large group of viruses that includes those responsible for SARS-CoV (the virus that caused the 2002-2004 outbreak of SARS) and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Although the origin of SARS-CoV-2 remains uncertain, the spillover of other viruses from bats is a growing problem due to factors like agricultural expansion and climate change.
Greg Albery, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Georgetown’s Biology Department, says COVID-19 provided the impetus to expedite their research. “This is a really rare opportunity,” explains Albery. “Outside of a pandemic, we’d never learn this much about these viruses in this small a timeframe. A decade of research has been collapsed into about a year of publications, and it means we can actually show that these tools work.”
In the first quarter of 2020, the researcher team trained eight different statistical models that predicted which kinds of animals could host betacoronaviruses. Over more than a year, the team then tracked discovery of 40 new bat hosts of betacoronaviruses to validate initial predictions and dynamically update their models. The researchers found that models harnessing data on bat ecology and evolution performed extremely well at predicting new hosts. In contrast, cutting-edge models from network science that used high-level mathematics – but less biological data – performed roughly as well or worse than expected at random.
“One of the most important things our study gives us is a data-driven shortlist of which bat species should be studied further,” says Daniel Becker, PhD, assistant professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma. “After identifying these likely hosts, the next step is then to invest in monitoring to understand where and when betacoronaviruses are likely to spill over.”
Carlson says that the team is now working with other scientists around the world to test bat samples for coronaviruses based on their predictions.
“If we spend less money, resources, and time looking for these viruses, we can put all of those resources into the things that actually save lives down the road. We can invest in building universal vaccines to target those viruses, or monitoring for spillover in people that live near bats,” says Carlson. “It’s a win-win for science and public health.”
More from: Georgetown University Medical Center | University of Idaho | Louisiana State University | University of California Berkeley | Colorado State University | Pacific Lutheran University | Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai | University of Glasgow | Université de Montréal | University of Toronto | Ghent University | University College Dublin | Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | American Museum of Natural History
The Latest on: Cell-reprogramming therapy for heart failure
- Drawbacks to Stem Cell Therapy in Cardiovascular Diseaseson June 28, 2022 at 5:00 pm
Recent progress has succeeded in reprogramming autologous fibroblasts ... Gregoric ID: Stem cell therapy for ischemic heart failure. Tex. Heart Inst. J. 32(3), 339-347 (2005).
- Breakthrough Stem Cell Treatment for Pulmonary Hypertension Trialedon June 24, 2022 at 2:34 am
Researchers have said that the treatment, using umbilical cord stem cell products, was the first of its kind in preventing the fatal course of the disease.
- Sickle Cell Disease and Blood Transfusions: Benefits, Risks, and Procedureon June 23, 2022 at 1:40 pm
This is called prophylactic treatment ... reprogramming how your body creates new RBCs. But these options are very complicated and carry their own serious risks. Can people with the sickle cell ...
- Novel drug molecule targets T-cells causing inflammation in heart failure patientson June 22, 2022 at 4:30 pm
Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine have developed a novel drug molecule that targets T-cells causing inflammation in heart failure patients, ...
- Mass. Expands Stem Cell Therapy For Cancer Patients With New Approvalon June 22, 2022 at 10:00 am
The state Health Services Council voted to allow patients from the Lifespan Cancer Institute at the Rhode Island Hospital to take part in an autologous stem-cell therapy program. Meanwhile, ...
- Can Gene Therapy Cure Type 1 Diabetes or Normalize Blood Sugars?on June 21, 2022 at 5:00 pm
and other organs), heart disease, and hemophilia (a disorder in which your blood has trouble clotting). For T1D, gene therapy could look like the reprogramming of alternative cells, making those ...
- New understanding of congenital heart disease progression opens door to improved treatment optionson June 21, 2022 at 5:00 pm
A team of investigators from Texas Heart Institute, Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine uncovered new insights into the mechanisms underlying the progression of congenital heart ...
- mRNA treatment repairs mouse hearts to "near normal" after heart attackon June 18, 2022 at 5:00 pm
Researchers at the University of Houston have demonstrated a new technique for helping heart cells ... kind of gene therapy has the potential to eventually be used to treat heart disease in ...
- Cardiac Regeneration, Stem Cellson July 15, 2021 at 8:20 am
Members of Theme Six are involved in research aimed at improving heart function after ... the efficiency of in vivo reprogramming with the goal of using this approach in therapy, recognizing that use ...
- A New Method of Cellular Reprogramming Brings Us One Step Closer to Curing Heart Failureon November 14, 2016 at 12:57 pm
By reprogramming three transcription factors (proteins that determine whether a gene is on or off within a cell ... Still, the treatment is a huge step toward curing heart failure.
via Bing News