Today’s Solutions: January 31, 2023

The Covid-19 pandemic stalled a lot of progress, but true to form, The Optimist Daily would like to point out a few ways in which the pandemic actually provided the perfect circumstances for technological advancement.

Genetic vaccines. After thirty years of lab research and development, the pandemic set the stage for scientists to see how gene-based vaccines would perform in the real world. DNA and mRNA vaccines, like many new discoveries, had growing pains to work through in the early days. The first mRNA vaccines were difficult to store and didn’t produce the right type of immunity, while DNA vaccines were more stable but weren’t efficient at getting into the cell’s nucleus, failing to produce sufficient immunity.

Over time, researchers were able to achieve stability through correcting genetic instructions, resulting in a more effective immune response. By 2019, academic labs and biotechnology companies all over the world were working on promising mRNA and DNA vaccines for infectious diseases and even cancer or were in phase 1 or phase 2 human clinical trials.

Because mRNA vaccines use genetic codes from a pathogen rather than the entire virus or bacteria, they can be developed and designed in weeks and have millions of doses manufactured within months. This is a fraction of the time it takes just to develop traditional vaccines, much less manufacture them.

One day, gene-based vaccines could cure cancer and replace less effective traditional vaccines. It could mean that we are ready to stop pandemics before they even begin in the future.

Wearable tech and early illness detection. Wearable devices aren’t new to us. Fitbits, smartwatches, and other wearable health and wellness technology were measuring our temperature, heart rate, level of activity, and other biometrics even before the Covid-19 health crisis, but what the pandemic did for this technology was to show researchers how these devices could monitor disease.

Previous wearables work that used real-time data collection focused primarily on chronic diseases. The pandemic served as an opportunity for scientists to see how health wearables could be implemented to study real-time infectious disease detection.

Symptoms of Covid-19 or other illnesses are detectable by wearables long before they are noticeable to us. And it’s not just symptoms of Covid-19 that are detectable, but a plethora of other illnesses, diseases, and infections could be detected early with the help of wearables.

Going into a post-pandemic future, it’s fair to assume that even more people will incorporate wearables into their lives if they haven’t already, and the data gained by researchers during this time will inform improvements made on these devices so that they can better and more accurately serve us.

A new way to discover drugs. The pandemic has spurred research that looks into complicated networks of genes and the proteins they encode. According to Nevan Krogan, Professor of Cellular Molecular Pharmacology and Director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute at the University of California, studying the connections and interactions among proteins (protein networks) can lead to a new way to look for drugs that will treat specific diseases.

In the years before the pandemic, Krogan and his colleagues had already been exploring the potential of protein networks and were eager to use this approach to see if they could find a treatment for the emerging virus. When the pandemic hit, they immediately began to map the network of human proteins that SARS-CoV-2 hijacks and were able to pinpoint 69 compounds that influence the proteins in the coronavirus network.

The beauty of the protein mapping technique is that it can be employed to find new treatments for all kinds of diseases like cancer and neurodegenerative or psychiatric disorders. The progress of this technology is promising, and Krogan and his team hope that other areas of medicine will benefit from protein mapping.

This story is part of our ‘Best of 2021’ series highlighting our top solutions from the year. Today we’re featuring health solutions.

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