On February 23, MIT Technology Review, a world-renowned technology media, announced the "2022 10 Breakthrough Technologies", with 4 from biomedical field. They are not only based on addressing the current COVID-19 crisis, but also benefit large numbers of people in poor areas and pave the way for future breakthroughs.
1. COVID-19 Variant Tracking
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, whenever we talk about science, people will always think of vaccines and drugs that have come out, but they will ignore another important scientific fact - the novel coronavirus is the most sequenced object in human history, more than human beings themselves, also surpassing pathogens of concern such as influenza and HIV.
When the test swab is stuck in the nose, the person being tested may not expect that some of those positive samples will be sent for additional genome sequencing. The purpose is simple - to see how the genome of the novel coronavirus has changed. If a large number of similar mutations suddenly appear in a short period of time, it is likely to herald the emergence of a new variant. According to public data, the genome sequencing results of the novel coronavirus have exceeded 7 million copies. Similar variants of Alpha, Delta, and Omicron were discovered this way, according to a press release from MIT Technology Review.
While sequencing cannot tell us where the virus will evolve in the future, it is precisely because of this that we should do a better job of monitoring for mutations in the novel coronavirus, so that we can detect new mutations early in the future. A scientific warning before it spreads around the world.
2. AI For Protein Folding
Artificial intelligence (AI) is making headlines again in 2021. In July, the journals Nature and Science published articles describing two AI models that can accurately predict protein structures. Then a series of AI tools called AlphaFold broke new ground, predicting the structure of 98.5% of human proteins. At the end of 2021, Science named it the scientific breakthrough of the year.
The press release of MIT Technology Review pointed out that almost all biochemical processes in the human body are inseparable from the participation of proteins. The biological macromolecules consist of a long chain of amino acids folded into complex three-dimensional structures, and if their properties can be understood, it may be possible to understand their function and even pave the way for the development of drugs. For years, scientists have tried to use computational tools to predict the structure of proteins. However, the accuracy of these works is difficult to match with the manually obtained structures.
This is where artificial intelligence breaks through. Through deep learning, the system was able to predict protein structure more accurately, and this is the first time that computers have produced protein structure data of close to human experimental quality. The latter is more accurate, but also more time-consuming. The real impact of these efforts may take years to fully manifest. But its potential transformative potential is obvious to all.
3. Malaria Vaccine
Malaria kills more than 600,000 people worldwide each year, the vast majority of whom are children under the age of five. This deadly mosquito-borne disease is a huge social burden in impoverished Africa.
Mosquirix, brought by GlaxoSmithKline, is a malaria vaccine. In 800,000 children in Kenya, Malawi, Ghana and other countries, the vaccine provided 50% protection against severe malaria within a year of vaccination. Although the protective efficacy of the vaccine declines over time, public health officials consider it as an important breakthrough that will change the way malaria is controlled. If the protective efficacy is converted, then we can get a more intuitive result - compared with existing drugs, this vaccine is expected to reduce malaria deaths by up to 70%.
In other respects, this vaccine also has its milestone significance. This is the first vaccine developed against parasites. As multicellular organisms, parasites are 500 to 1,000 times larger than the genomes of ordinary viruses or bacteria, and are more likely to mutate and escape the monitoring of the immune system. The GlaxoSmithKline vaccine targets some surface proteins of the malaria parasite early in its life, supplemented with molecules that activate the immune system and promote the production of antibodies.
4. A Pill For COVID-19
In the early days of the novel coronavirus epidemic, many people were exploring different off-the-shelf treatments, trying to find a panacea to control the virus as soon as possible. In retrospect, most of these treatments were ineffective against the novel coronavirus and did not help to control the disease, but these measures also reflected a simple idea - people expect easy ways to treat the disease. It is best to take a few pills to clear the new coronavirus from the body.
Last year, series of breakthroughs were made in novel COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment from companies including Merck and Pfizer. On December 22, 2021, the U.S. FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for Pfizer’s Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir tablets and ritonavir tablets, co-packaged for oral use) for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older weighing at least 40 kilograms or about 88 pounds) with positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 testing, and who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.
In terms of mechanism, they are not obtained by accident, but based on long-term scientific research - people have known that the core replication mechanism of such viruses, and inhibiting some of these key enzymes can prevent the virus from replicating.
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 2022 10 Breakthrough Technologies, Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/02/23/1045416/10-breakthrough-technologies-2022/
 Covid variant tracking, Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/02/23/1044975/covid-19-variant-tracking-scientists/
 AI for protein folding, Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/02/23/1044957/ai-protein-folding-deepmind/
 Malaria vaccine, Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/02/23/1044957/ai-protein-folding-deepmind/
 A pill for covid, Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/02/23/1044936/covid-19-pill-pandemic/