Moroccan researcher Tariq Daouda recently helped launch an interactive platform to accelerate the discovery of a vaccine against covid-19.
On May 5, a group of international researchers (two French, one Brazilian, one Lebanese, one German and two Canadians as well as Moroccan Tariq Daouda) launched the interactive platform “Epitopes.world”powered by artificial intelligence, with the aim of accelerating the development of an anti-coronavirus vaccine.
Contacted by Media24, the Moroccan researcher explains that he applied the algorithm developed during his PhD to the Sars-CoV-2 genome, which is the virus that causes covid-19. “From there, we are able to make predictions about what will be presented on the surface of the cells that are infected with this virus” for potential vaccine targets.
“When Sars-CoV-2 ignites a cell, it studies its internal machinery to produce its own proteins. Some of these proteins – called epitopes – will then be cut into small pieces, and end up on the surface of the cell. Using these epitopes, the immune system is able to identify infected cells.”
“In our research, we have released a list of predictions of epitopes that could most likely appear on the surface of infected cells,” according to our algorithm. “The goal is to accelerate the discovery phase of drugs and molecules important for the treatment of this virus. That is, instead of testing multiple vaccines, which could take months or even years, researchers can start by targeting the epitopes on this list, since they are more likely than others.”
“If we can therefore, from the Sars-CoV-2 genome, know which proteins will be present on the surface of infected cells, these can be introduced into a vaccine to prevent covid-19. This can lead the immune system to recognize in advance what a coronavirus-infected cell looks like. This means that once the virus enters the person’s body, the immune response is much faster, and that is the principle of the vaccine.”
This group of volunteer researchers is currently looking for other partners to make further validations, as little data is available on the new coronavirus. They will also work on developing their website to add visualizations and services that allow users, who are other researchers, to find relevant information faster.
“We will improve the interface and add extension pages. Currently, we have launched the platform with the bare minimum with which a researcher can work,” concludes our source.
Born in Rabat, Tariq Daouda holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from Henri-Poincaré University, Nancy-I, and a master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Montreal. He then completed a PhD in bioinformatics at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer in Montreal. Currently, he is a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School, and is working on predicting epitopes from RNA sequences. This is the application of artificial intelligence to immunology.