QF RDI expert discusses use of AI, genomics, and other advanced technologies being used to combat the 21st century pandemic
An interview with Dr. Richard O’Kennedy, Qatar Foundation Vice President for Research, Development, and Innovation.
What are some of the efforts Qatar Foundation Research, Development, and Innovation (QF RDI) is making towards battling this crisis?
At Qatar Foundation, there has always been a strong plan to manage a crisis like this, and it’s been working extremely well. We have got to be prepared and have action plans, because we could very well see other infectious diseases, in addition to other challenges such as global warming, posing a threat in the future.
All our entities within our research, development, and innovation ecosystem are trying to help. When we asked ourselves how we could help, one of the first things that came up was the possibility of giving some of our equipment to Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) to help them speed up the process of doing analysis. So, we've transferred some of our equipment to the hospital, and it has been validated, checked, and set up.
Secondly, we’re working to develop a test that would also help in terms of measuring or determining the presence of coronavirus. In addition to this, members of our teams are looking at ways of potentially developing treatment mechanisms. They're looking at the virus and seeing other ways in which we can come up with treatment modalities using the expertise on hand.
In South Korea, companies are using AI in an attempt to speed up the development of testing kits. Is AI playing a significant role in combating COVID-19?
Artificial Intelligence is also going to have a huge effect on what we do and how we do it. It’s really about the crunching of large amounts of data. If you're doing global modeling of something like this pandemic, you can do it extremely well with large amounts of information. The more information you have, the better the model you can build. And that allows you to infer how the disease is spreading, and equally, and how effective treatments and approaches such as social distancing may be.
One of the interesting things that's going to come out of this is that people will begin to look at the virus and how the genome of that virus is made up of a huge amount of data – which will be generated. That data can be quite valuable, because it can tell us things about how the virus is changing over time, maybe the different sources of the virus, and this may allow us to predict ways in which we can counteract the virus.
Moving forward, the information that we generate can be very important in helping to plan for the future and enhancing our ability to better cope with situations like these.
Another project we’re working on with Qatar Computing Research Institute is a diagnostic monitoring app, which can potentially be used by everybody among the population. In essence, this uses computing to help diagnostics, which in turn can help healthcare in a very tangible way. That is the good thing about having researchers in the RDI system that we have in Qatar. We've been using the expertise that we have to develop ways of counteracting this pandemic in every way possible.
How are organizations and researchers from across Qatar, and other countries with whom QF RDI has collaborations, working together on projects related to the pandemic?
We are involved in very strong collaborations in relation to this. One example is the collaboration we have with Genomics England, with whom we're working to look at aspects of the genome of the virus, and indeed of those that are being infected.
We also have a large number of people with expertise in the field of diagnostics who have volunteered. They can work with HMC in the diagnostic division if required, helping to combine efforts in this area.