When disease strikes, it leaves in its wake a slew of socio-economic consequences. Response to this disease and in effect their consequences have historically been in one way or the other derived from science and technology. Today, much as these situations evolve in scale and magnitude, so also has the worlds response evolved. From novel preventive technology to effective and fast-acting contingency approaches, science and tech are changing how the world tackles the issueof disease.
A Molecular Approach
In combating situations like that brought on by the coronavirus, its important that researchers act with speed and agility to develop potent and, more importantly, safe vaccines. This is where novel solutions like mRNA vaccines come into the picture.
Unlike the typical vaccine development protocol, which relies on inactivating the pathogen or purifying specific components from it, mRNA vaccines take the pathogen completely out of the picture. To develop an mRNA vaccine, scientists, using genetic engineering, synthesize specific proteins associated with the virus external coat. These proteins are capable of initiating an immune response when introduced into the body, of course without eliciting the disease conditions caused by the active virus. That immune response persists and grants the subject immunity from subsequent infections. Aside from reducing the risks associated with vaccination, turning to mRNA vaccines greatly expedites the time taken from disease outbreak to deployment of a viable vaccine.
MRNA vaccines are yet to be deployed in the real world setting as part of a broad-scale intervention. That said, a handful of clinical trials have shown just how effective they can be. From a biomedical standpoint, they represent one of the most important preventive/therapeutic outlets that can be leveraged in keeping up with the onset of disease.
Synergy On A Global Scale
Whendealing with disease, its important that the intervention is launched on as broad a scale as possible -- and fast. Orchestrating such a broad-scale intervention requires the collective effort of all key players, including both government authorities and independent actors.
Consider the coronavirus situation as an example. Since the outbreak, the Chinese government, itself made up of several national and subnational institutions, has partnered both local and international actors to curb its spread. A team of researchers working in Wuhan was responsible for sequencing the virus genome. Another team based in Australia was the first to successfully grow a live culture of the virus in a laboratory setting. Collaboration and coordination at this level require a systemic aggregation of available resources, in addition to the seamless integration of all relevant authorities. Technology is a critical player in this regard.
This is especially apparent from the epidemiological perspective of managing disease where things like situational awareness come into the fray. Technology disrupts the conventional barriers of communication and coordination, giving health authorities the chance to act swiftly, with agility and heightened efficiency. As is often the case this ability could be the difference between a disease halted at the local level and one that breaks the shores to transform into a global problem. In the wake of the 2003 SARS situation, it was discovered that just a one-week delay in effecting control measures could have escalated the magnitude of the outbreak to about three times what was experienced, in addition to prolonging its duration by four weeks.
Its important to note, however, that while technology has indeed fostered faster, more efficacious responses, theres still room for massive improvement. A case in point is the current situation as it concerns testing suspected cases for the coronavirus.
Technology is what allows for the swift transportation of samples from suspected victims to testing centers. It is also what allows for testing to be carried out and results shipped back, but what if a rapid diagnostic test kit was developed? In theory that would effectively obliterate the time lag between confirming cases, generally improve patient prognosis and cut down the risk of transmission from suspected cases that are actually positive to suspected cases that turn out negative (both housed in the same containment facility), among other things.
Predicting The Future
Advances in computational technologies now mean diseases can be run in a simulation even before they get the chance to play out. These simulations utilize demographic data, individual data, and data about mobility patterns and commuting networks to model the pattern/dynamics of a given situation.
The models derived thereof provide a comprehensive framework for assessing both past and future diseases. Particularly, they help in predicting the likely start points, risk factors, progression and risk populations for future situations. For governments and health authorities, these insights are a start point for the development of pragmatic action plans aimed at preventing the onset of a disease.
Different disease models also come in handy in effecting contingency interventions. It is well known that the trajectory of disease progression is inherently linked to the available short- and long-range mobility networks. As weve seen in many cases, long-range mobility networks, typically in the form of air travel, are directly correlated to the spread of a disease on a global scale. Short-range mobility networks, on the other hand, primarily drive the diffusion of disease in local populations. Computational models provide an avenue to actively track these modes of dispersion with a view of creating a viable containment protocol. The accuracy of these models, however, remains a major concern. That concern can be addressed through significant investments in the research and development of better simulators.
So, What Next?
As both the science and technology industries continue on their never-ending path of evolution, they promise even better methods for identifying, managing and preventing disease on a global scale. Thats good news for government and health professionals -- and even better news for key players in both industries. For businesses with the specialization, plugging into this evolution and deriving purpose-fit solutions for preventing and containing global disease is an outlet thats well worth the consideration.
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