He got motivated by Luxembourg’s #letsmakeithappen and decided to create a gamified tool, AnalysisMode to empower anyone to #fightcoronavirus in the comfort of their own homes – without any scientific knowledge requirements. Here’s our interview with Tiago Roberti Sampaio, Entrepreneur/Amazon Engineer/AI Advisor/Immunology Genomics Researcher/Member of the Silicon Luxembourg Business Club.
by: Charles-Louis Machuron
photo: Anna Katina
featured: Tiago Roberti Sampaio
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How did you come up with the idea?
I have a background in the field. Back in university, I worked at the immunology department to develop algorithms to predict vaccine formulas. After 2 years as a student-researcher, I realized the field of Bioinformatics has difficulties in: 1) Finding qualified people with knowledge in Biology, Statistics and Computer Science; 2) Validating solutions; 3) Dealing with large amounts of data.
When the outbreak happened, I saw the urge to combine my knowledge into a simple tool that could help fight COVID-19 and bring people closer to immunology research by helping them understand and be a part of it.
What does your tool enable?
The tool empowers people to find patterns and configurations that will later be used by a computer to predict vaccine formulae. The formula we’re looking for is only a part (small protein sequence) of the virus. When injected in our bodies, it causes an immune response without side-effects.
Each ‘gameplay’ gives hints of patterns to a computer, so it won’t need to try all possible combinations (taking years) but will instead have a starting point.
“With such an algorithm, we would be to generate a list of 10 possible formulae that can then be created/tested.”
What do you expect from it?
The goal is to speed-up vaccine discovery by creating enough ‘gameplays’ that would have ~90% accuracy in predicting a vaccine formula (protein sequence).
With such an algorithm, we would be to generate a list of 10 possible formulae that can then be created/tested. The process of creating a protein-based vaccine takes 25 days, and the clinical trial can be reduced from 14 months to few weeks because the injected vaccine is a protein sequence, rather than a weakened virus.
How can student researchers and researchers of all kind help fight the covid?
The field of Bioinformatics and Immunology is very new. Scientists still don’t know how the mechanism of viruses and bacteria works inside our bodies. We don’t even know how our defense cells identify viruses.
Researchers should be looking into understanding our cells and other micro-organisms at the protein/DNA level. Our bodies are built in a simple language of 4 letters, ATGC – DNA. It’s a language that we can read, but not yet completely understand.
Every individual can help us gather more understanding about the DNA language by playing the game created under the AnalysisMode. The AnalysisMode feature is aimed at empowering individuals – without prior knowledge – to contribute to science and research.
“Today, you can contribute your computer’s processing power to health research using Folding@home play games to design drugs at FoldIt or solve puzzles to help find vaccines at AnalysisMode.”
How can tech tools help today?
Technology is making life sciences more accessible to people with interactive graphs, pattern recognition, and quicker statistical analysis. There’s a growing demand for using crowdsourced intelligence tools that help researchers find patterns and analyse large amounts of data.
The largest player in the field is Citizen Science, an association that enables public participation in scientific research to increase scientific knowledge. Through Citizen Science, people share and contribute to data monitoring and collection programs. Usually this participation is done on a voluntary basis.
In 2017, Citizen Science partnered with Eve Online (a major online game) to create a game to enable players to contribute to scientific research in the discovery of exoplanets and identify proteins in human cells. In both components, the human’s pattern recognition speed exceeded the computer’s speed.
Today, you can contribute your computer’s processing power to health research using Folding@home, play games to design drugs at FoldIt, or solve puzzles to help find vaccines at AnalysisMode. There’s an excellent video of FoldIt explaining how the virus interacts with our defense cells and how you can help fight COVID-19.
While Folding@home and FoldIt help, they are not to simplest tools to get started. For Folding@home, you would have to download and configure an application that is constantly running in your computer’s background. This could cause your computer to run slowly and drain battery. As for FoldIt, it’s a 200MB game that requires good computer graphics. Both Folding@home and FoldIt are impracticable in mobile devices, while AnalysisMode can be accessed using any online device.