By Dr. Rod Fontecilla, Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Data Scientist, Dovel Technologies
In early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to take shape, many organizations were technologically unprepared for what was to come—or so they thought. In reality, many Government agencies, corporate enterprises, and other entities had been spending the past few years building what would ultimately become key safety nets as the world entered the throes of the pandemic. The robust cloud infrastructures they had been investing in for years were suddenly put to the test.
Good news: not only did those infrastructures hold, they excelled. In the process, they propelled Healthcare research to unprecedented levels.
Take, for example, Moderna, which used a 100 percent cloud-based approach to sequence and design its groundbreaking mRNA vaccine. Or the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) Clinical Trials Data Repository, which enables secure sharing of data sets pertaining to clinical trials.
These projects are testaments to the potential of a cloud infrastructure’s ability to support high volume data sharing and real-time analytical processing. Thanks to the cloud, Healthcare organizations can build analytical models that can significantly advance bioinformatics and genomic research. They can derive actionable intelligence to identify new disease variants, discover new drugs and therapeutics, and more effectively treat diseases, including COVID-19.
Now that the infrastructure is in place, we have a chance to take things even further. Here’s how.
Commit to Secure Data Sharing
Pre-pandemic, many public and private sector Healthcare organizations kept their datasets close to their vests. That caused challenges; people didn’t know how much PPE was available, how many ICU beds were in use, where vaccines were being distributed, and more. It was reminiscent of the lack of data sharing and coordination available prior to 9/11.
Organizations quickly realized that data and intelligence sharing was key to fighting the pandemic. U.S. Government organizations began sharing data domestically and internationally in a concerted effort to gain insights into the disease. The NIAID Clinical Trials Data Repository is a great example of a collaborative effort to improve the study and treatment of COVID-19 and other diseases.
Government agencies, hospitals, and private enterprises must continue to build on a culture of data sharing. They must continue to encrypt and anonymize data, build data collection repositories, and open those repositories to the broader community. The pandemic has given us new insights into the importance of sharing and pooling research to accelerate progress.
Leverage Predictive Analytics
The cloud allows us to put this commitment into action. Through the cloud, data can be accessed and collected at labs around the world, immediately stored and processed in a central database. That database can use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to analyze millions of data points and push out actionable intelligence based on known data pertaining to specific symptoms, morbidities, a virus’s reaction to a vaccine, and more.
With this intelligence in hand, scientists can create modified vaccines or boosters that mitigate the impact of variants of concern. Attending physicians in hospital COVID-19 wards can make better decisions on how to treat patients at the point of care. The possibilities are numerous.
This is the essence of predictive analytics in action. By enabling the processing of massive amounts of data, the cloud sets the stage for complex calculations outside the realm of human possibility. When layered with AI, ML, and natural language processing (NLP)—which translates data sets into digestible, easy-to-understand formats—it becomes the conduit that provides data scientists, researchers, and even physicians with valuable information and clear recommendations they can use to advance their research and treat patients.
Consider the Use Cases
There are many practical and potential use cases. Currently, NIAID is using predictive analytics to drive new ideas and innovations around bioinformatics research. Meanwhile, researchers at other organizations are referencing complicated biological data, pulled from many sources, to gain a better understanding of how certain processes and situations will likely impact the health of a single human being. Still others are using terabytes of data to create 3D models that show how diseases evolve over time and predict, with a high degree of accuracy, the future evolution of those diseases.
In short, the more data collected and shared, the smarter the AI will become, providing greater intelligence and insights for everyone. The same cloud infrastructure that powered us through the opening stages of the pandemic will continue to drive these capabilities. It is the underlying force that will allow Healthcare researchers and practitioners to advance their analysis and care well after the pandemic is over.
Opportunities for Government and Industry Collaboration
Putting these recommendations into action will require the combined efforts of Government and private industry. This partnership will be essential to advancing public health initiatives in a post-pandemic world.
Government agencies must continue to proactively collect data while leveraging historical data from legacy systems. Enterprises can work with the Government to modernize their systems for the present and future while ensuring legacy data is not lost. Simultaneously, companies can provide agencies with scalable data ingestion engines to collect structured and unstructured data from multiple sources. They can also work with the Government to develop AI, ML, and NLP platforms that let users experiment with new algorithms and create their own libraries of data products.
In turn, agencies must build flexible data repositories that can be shared with private sector organizations. This will create additional insights and value and lead to the development of innovations beneficial to the general public.
Finally, the Government can also leverage the expertise of the private sector to become increasingly data driven. Government agencies should work with companies to train their own employees to become data literate, understanding how to collect, digest, interpret, and turn data from raw information into actionable recommendations.
Take Advantage of these Opportunities
With all the challenges the pandemic has presented us, technology—particularly cloud infrastructure—is a notable exception. If it were not for the cloud, we would not have achieved many of the amazing scientific accomplishments we have experienced over the past 12 months. We certainly would not be where we are today regarding vaccinations and other elements of our current pandemic response. One could envision us being in nearly the same situation the world faced during the pandemic of 1918—a sobering thought.
Thankfully, that is not where we are. Instead, we are at the forefront of a new day powered by incredible technology that empowers us to do incredible things. The technology is readily available; thanks to the “democratization of AI,” just about anyone has access to the tools they need to easily run models that will prove valuable today and tomorrow. We must take advantage of this opportunity and continue to explore the possibilities the cloud provides for a better future for Healthcare.
About Dr. Rod Fontecilla
Dr. Rod Fontecilla directs strategic research and the development of innovative solutions for current and prospective customers of Dovel. His expertise includes advanced data analytics, computer vision, cloud integration and robotic process automation. Dr. Fontecilla serves as an adjunct professor at American University, Kogod School of Business. He earned his Ph.D in Applied Mathematics from Rice University.