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### Leveraging Generative AI for Predicting Pandemics

A Harvard AI called EVEscape is a kind of machine “oracle” for viral evolution, allowing us to pred…

Infections possess a remarkable ability to evolve rapidly, as exemplified by the case of Covid-19. Throughout the epidemic, the virus transitioned from beta to river to tc, prompting researchers to swiftly adapt vaccines and protocols to address the emerging variants. Harvard University’s AI innovation, EVEscape, stands poised to revolutionize our approach by anticipating new iterations before their emergence. This AI, functioning as a virus development “oracle,” utilizes an algorithm trained on pre-epidemic data to predict both regular mutations and problematic COVID-19 variants, along with a spectrum of potential future variations. Dr. Debora Marks, the principal investigator at the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, underscores the significance of this predictive capability in shaping the development of vaccines and treatments.

During the pandemic’s critical phases, there was a significant push to leverage AI for predicting prevalent variants. While previous models relied on existing variant knowledge and offered short-term forecasts, EVEscape distinguishes itself by employing adaptive genomics to trace a virus’s lineage, enabling longer-term projections and proactive responses. Dr. Noor Youssef, one of the study authors, emphasizes the goal of designing vaccines and treatments that can withstand future viral mutations.

Viruses, akin to living organisms, continue to evolve under the selective pressures of natural selection. Their genetic makeup undergoes random alterations, with some changes diminishing infectivity while others enhance transmission. The quest to anticipate detrimental variants amidst the vast genetic diversity of viruses poses a formidable challenge. The research team turned to EVE, an AI originally designed to identify disease-causing genetic variations in humans, retraining it to predict viral mutations. By integrating insights from previous coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the AI can pinpoint crucial genetic regions that influence viral survival and evolution.

Looking ahead, the application of EVEscape extends beyond Covid-19 to other potential pathogens that could spark future pandemics. By forecasting mutations in viruses like Lassa and Nipah, the AI equips us with the foresight needed to preemptively combat emerging threats. The collaborative efforts of researchers at Harvard and beyond underscore the transformative potential of AI in pandemic preparedness and response, offering a glimpse into a future where proactive measures can mitigate the impact of infectious diseases.

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Last modified: November 13, 2023
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