BSC uses bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and its MareNostrum supercomputer in the fight against coronavirus

Catalan Economy

08 May 2020

The use of bioinformatics to find treatments

BSC is applying bioinformatics for research on the virus and its possible treatments, analysing the coronavirus genome and its successive mutations, and searching for drugs and immune therapies (antibodies and vaccines) to fight it.

According to BSC, knowing how the virus has evolved through different epidemics (such as the SARS epidemic in 2003, MERS in 2012, or the current Covid-19) helps to understand how it is possible for the virus to be transmitted from one species to another and the changes it undergoes.

This sheds light on the virus mode of transmission and the mechanisms it uses to interact with our immune system and the immune system of other species, which is crucial when looking for treatments and for the prevention and prediction of eventual future outbreaks.

The BSC analyses this information using computer programs specifically designed for that purpose, some developed in the BSC itself and others by other teams. The processing of these data requires great computational capacity and therefore the high-performance computing resources of MareNostrum 4 supercomputer are used.

The institution is also searching for treatments against the diseases caused by the coronavirus, including the process of simulating on a computer the interactions between the virus and the molecules that could be used to make vaccines, antibody treatments or drug treatments.

In order to do so, researchers use the knowledge generated in the research of the virus genome, information on the structures of its virus proteins and data on drugs and other inorganic molecules, which are stored in computer libraries that contain millions of chemical compounds and the results obtained in previous experiments, collected over years by the scientific community.

As stated by BSC, any treatment or vaccine that computer models predict may be successful must subsequently be validated in experimental laboratories, animal testing, and clinical research, and refined in constant collaboration between different research participants.

Artificial intelligence to analyze the spread of the pandemic

The BSC is taking part in several projects to apply artificial intelligence and natural language processing and big data techniques to analyze information about the spread of the pandemic.

For instance, the BSC, together with other research and health institutions (such as the Hospital Clínic and the UPF Center for Research in Economics and Health), are developing predictive models of bed occupancy in health centers using machine learning techniques with the aim of planning health logistics.

The institution is also collaborating in the simulation of the spread of the current pandemic in Spain, while it is also working with UNICEF on a project to analyze the socioeconomic impact of the virus locally and globally, with an emphasis on social distancing. The goal is to find impact indicators, patterns and statistics that serve the UN and local authorities to take better and faster measurements.

The BSC user support service has also applied its information analysis tools to fight the spreading of fake news about health through social networks in Spain.

MareNostrum 4 and users support

The MareNostrum 4 supercomputer provides the necessary computational capacity to accelerate ongoing investigations against the coronavirus. The BSC uses it for its own research, but the center also made it available to research teams or external entities that need high-performance computing for their research against the coronavirus.

Source: BSC


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