07.04.2021 change 07.04.2021

Scientists urge introduction of advanced information system to help prepare for next pandemic

Credit: Fotolia Credit: Fotolia

Scientists need to be better prepared for the next pandemic, warns an international team of researchers led by Professor Wladek Minor from the University of Virginia School of Medicine (UVA).

Writing in the journal IUCrJ, the team which includes scientists from the US, Poland and Austria, propose creating an ‘advanced information system’ (AIS) to help integrate, monitor and evaluate the huge amounts of data that will be produced as researchers reveal the molecular architecture of the next pathogen posing a big biological threat. 

This information on the shape, structure and function of a pathogen is essential to the development of medications, vaccines and treatments. For example, the COVID-19 vaccines currently available target the spike protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Molecular physiologist and biophysicist Professor Minor said: “Structural models and other experimental results produced by various laboratories must follow a standard evaluation procedure to ensure that they are accurate and conform to accepted scientific standards.

“Standardized validation is important for all areas of biomedical sciences, especially for structural models, which are often used as a starting point in subsequent research, such as computer-guided drug docking studies and data mining. Even seemingly insignificant errors can lead such research astray.”

An important role of AIS would be to identify data that can be refined and improved. It’s critical that the structural and other data for pathogens are as accurate as possible, and that scientists from various fields are speaking the same language when discussing and using them. The proposed AIS would help ensure conformity across disciplines.

Minor, who graduated from the Faculty of Physics at the University of Warsaw, said: “Almost 100,000 COVID-19-related papers have been published and over a thousand models of macromolecules encoded by SARS-CoV-2 have been experimentally determined in about a year. No single human can possibly digest this volume of information.

“We believe that the most promising solution to information overload and the lack of effective information retrieval is the creation of an advanced information system that is capable of harvesting results from all relevant resources and presenting the information in instructive ways that promote understanding and knowledge.”

He added: “Creating an AIS will undoubtedly require the collaboration of many scientists who are experts in their respective fields, but it seems to be the only way to prepare biomedical science for the next pandemic.

“In the history of humanity, the COVID-19 pandemic is relatively mild by comparison with the bubonic plague (Black Death) that killed a hundred times more people. We might not be so lucky next time.”

The authors of the publication include: David R. Cooper, Marcin Cymborowski, Marek Grabowski, Ivan G. Shabalin (University of Virginia), Joanna M. Macnar (University of Warsaw), Mirosław Gilski (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań), Dariusz Brzeziński, Marcin Kowiel, Mariusz Jaskóski (Department of Crystallography - Center for Biocrystallographic Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań), Zbigniew Dauter, Alexander Wlodawer (Center for Structural Biology, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, Maryland, USA), Bernhard Rupp (Institute of Genetic Epidemiology, Medical University Innsbruck, Austria). (PAP)

Author: Paweł Wernicki

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