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Foldit, the protein puzzle game that may help COVID-19 research

Adnan Kayyali

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protein puzzle game

The functionality of video games has long been expanding beyond just entertainment and storytelling for a while now. Gamification in medical treatment, education and training, and therapy are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Researchers from University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design are using a free online protein puzzle game called Foldit to figure out how to block COVID-19 spike proteins, the structures which allow the virus to recognize, latch, and infect healthy cells.

Proteins, outside of a dietary context, are simply complex structures of amino acids that when folded in certain ways, unlock a myriad of cell functionalities. Whether it is forming human fingernails or changing color for camouflage to hide from predators such as chameleons or emitting fluorescent light as with angler fish.

The protein puzzle game, created at UW’s Center for Game Science more than ten years ago, gives players the ability to twist, fold, and contort protein structures in all sorts of ways trying to find a way to block the spike-proteins.

“Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans’ puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins,” the game company explained, adding that “since proteins are part of so many diseases, they can also be part of the cure. Players can design brand new proteins that could help prevent or treat important diseases.”

From a pool of hundreds of thousands of players, the most promising results are manufactured and tested in labs and universities; but the game isn’t a miracle “cure generator.”

Taking the 3D representation of an anti-viral protein and turning it into an actual vaccine or treatment takes time, funding, and specialized individuals, facilities, and tools.

According to UW Biochemist, Brian Koepnick, “protein binder design is a very hard problem – one at the forefront of computational biology – and there are other physical factors that are difficult to account for.”

“Even if our metrics look good on paper or on a computer, only laboratory testing will tell us whether these designer proteins actually fold and bind to the target,” Koepnick wrote.

For those who wish to contribute to the global efforts in fighting the virus, you can do so from your home. Foldit has puzzles available to solve, with more on the way.

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Junior social media strategist with a degree in media and communication. Technology enthusiast and freelance writer. Favorite hobby: 3D modeling.

MedTech

Yelp users can now review COVID-19 safety measures for establishments

Adnan Kayyali

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review COVID-19 safety measures

Crowd-source business review platform, Yelp, has added a new feature that allows users the ability to review COVID-19 safety measures for various establishments.

The addition of this new feature reflects the company’s attempt at adapting to current health circumstances as well as acknowledging people’s highest concern in terms of visiting eateries and establishments.

Initially, Yelp had aimed at becoming the go-to restaurant advertising hub in the U.S., but later failed to hit the mark in terms of profitability, which has pushed it to transform over the years to diversify its features and offers.

Similar to how users recommend places as “good for groups,” “romantic,” or “good for kids,” users will soon be able to review COVID-19 safety measures with options such as “heated outdoor seating,” “1:1 session available,” and “disposable or contactless menu.”

Currently, the only option to share feedback regarding social distancing measures and mask wearing.

Yelp’s business model consisted of monetizing the business of restaurant recommendations, as it sought to become the make or breaker of a restaurant’s reputation, and for a while, it was just that.

However, competitors would use Yelp’s large customers base to sabotage their opponents with fake reviews, and in turn, flood their own review pages with unearned positive feedback.

Yelp responded to this with a software that detects fake or malicious comments and reviews and deletes them as many social platforms do with their comments.

According to Yelp, the platform enacts a filtering software that worms out fake or targeted reviews, based on reliability, user activity, and the overall quality of the review as a whole.

No rants or raves allowed, and if the user has recently installed Yelp and has very few active reviews, it could be flagged. clarify

It is worth mentioning that the problem of fake reviews could become even more dangerous with the addition of their new “review COVID-19 safety measures” feature, since customers are becoming increasingly cautious, especially during outings.

Similarly, precautions have been taken to assure that no establishment’s reputation is destroyed by a bad health and safety review.

These include:

  • The review is restricted to one branch of the franchise
  • Only users with a verified Yelp account may leave a review
  • Feedback is displayed on the app based on recent activity (within the previous 28 days)

With the world still gripped by the pandemic, people keenly search for safer places while avoiding high risk and density locations. This kind of review system seems like the logical next step during the pandemic, as technology aims to answer those very same questions.

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MedTech

UK Hospitals Explore Blockchain Tech Remedies

Mounir Jamil

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UK Hospitals Explore Blockchain Tech Remedies

With tech putting its best foot forward when it comes to battling the pandemic, the fight for widespread vaccination is another battlefront that has also commenced and is in it’s prime right now.

For the battle of widespread immunizations, U.K. National Health Services (NHS) have taped blockchain tech as part of their arsenal against COVID-19. The NHS will be using the same underlying system for cryptocurrencies like the infamous Bitcoin and popular Ether in monitoring supply and cold storage of two hospitals in the UK.

Out of the three vaccines in circulation right now, the one that is codeveloped by U.S pharma-mammoth Pfizer and its German partner BioNtech has some serious storage issues.

It must be stored at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit) – certainly not your typical winter temperature, these temperatures are below freezing.

Once the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is out of its storage unit and begins to thaw, it is only effective for another five days at 2-8 degrees Celsius.

All these factors render as major issues that blockchain tech manages to successfully address. And it is no surprise to see another use of blockchain in the health tech segment.

The two hospitals, in Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick in central England have teamed up with Hedera Hashgraph which bring their blockchain networks to the table. Noteworthy to mention is the powerful companies that back Hedera, amongst which are: Boeing, IBM, LG, and Google.

The other partner is asset-monitoring company Everyware that will provide the software needed to constantly track the vaccine’s temperature around the clock.

The solution is powered by Hedera’s blockchain system and Everyware’s sensors while the NHS deploys a distributed ledger to better accurately track the cold-storage equipment that holds the vaccines.

Distributed ledgers act as decentralized and synchronized digital systems for sharing data, and are popular for their large immunity to problems that may be introduced by human error.

This tech jargon further illustrates how the intricacies of blockchain technology can be hard to grasp even for tech enthusiasts, but the growing practicality and prevalence of this technology is plain to see.

With sources indicating that worldwide spending on blockchain solutions projected to grow to an estimated $15.9 billion by 2023 we are bound to see a plethora of new technologies and developments that will certainly allow for a more connected and smarter tomorrow.

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MedTech

Birth of Autonomous Vehicles

Mounir Jamil

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Global transportation in general was one the main victims of the pandemic that has literally crippled this sector.

Authorities in most countries have either shut down borders, or applied stringent conditions to limit private cars and public transport movement to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Faced with this dilemma, tech companies went back to their drawing boards to find a solution for this crucial issue.

One of the solutions that are now surfacing was development of autonomous vehicles, or as known on the streets as the self-driving car.

This technology is hugely adopted by Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc, parent company of Google that offer a fully autonomous and commercial self-driving taxi service operating solely in Arizona, U.S.

In an interview with Financial Times, John Krafcik, Waymo CEO warns about some of the biggest challenges of the industry, mainly being the recurrent need for continuous safety standards.

But with zero or minimal traffic right now due to the pandemic, we examine some factors that will surely revitalize autonomous vehicles adoption across several industries.

New boom in eCommerce will spike demand for autonomous vehicles for delivery and logistics

As more people are cooped up inside their homes, we find ourselves resorting to online methods to satisfy our shopping needs.

Be it the ease of use, practicality, or privacy that eCommerce has to offer – it is certainly a growing industry, and one that witnessed a major boom during the pandemic.

As this industry grows, it will have new business needs being created and old ones that need to be reevaluated. A major issue in the online industry is transportation and logistics, and as the world heads down a smarter path, key industry players are eyeing autonomous vehicles.

The tech comes in as an attractive option as it can increase the capacity of delivery networks, reduce costs greatly, increase safety, offer real-time digital insights and with a pandemic on the loose it even complies with social distancing measures.

Courier giant DHL attested to the perks that can be brought forward with self-driving technology as they believe that time savings thanks to autonomous technologies will reduce transportation costs per km by 40 percent.

Self-driving cars can also help erode the problem of aging truck drivers in developed countries around the world.

As the current number stands to be 50 years on average for truck drivers, several logistics companies are having recruitment problems trying to retain or hire new truck drivers.

Self-Driving Cars and Health Industry

Earlier this year, self-driving cars made the news when they proved their worth as a safe alternative in the healthcare industry.

At a much-needed time where our front-line health workers are being stretched thin and resources are barely being able to be allocated, and for the first time in U.S history autonomous vehicles are being used to transport medical supplies and COVID-19 results at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, U.S.

The system works by having four completely autonomous shuttles. operating along an initial route, without anyone on board and they transport COVID-19 test samples that are placed in secure containers prior the shuttles arrival.

If you are having trouble imaging in it, check out this video that demonstrates the no human shuttle below.

This use sheds light on the actual benefits that self-driving cars can have, on the healthcare industry, but what if we step it up a bit?

Imagine smart cities, the next level of technology and development – a city where everything is connected, everything can be monitored, and of course everything works like the click on a clock.

In these smart cities, autonomous transportation will be pushed to a new level.

 A while back, automotive giant Audi have partnered with German Karslruher Institute for Technology on a research project dubbed “25th Hour – Flow” and simulated what will happen when automated driving becomes more widespread.

The results are stunning to say the least. Just judge for yourself.

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