Column | From new method for vaccines to digital twins: the future of science, and humans

From new method for vaccines to digital twins: the future of science, and humans
Dr Jayan Thomas

Although the year 2020 was filled with crisis due to the spread of the COVID pandemic, it also engendered hope that vaccine research would help fight the virus.

The availability of a vaccine will be a turning point in the New Year 2021. Here are some other scientific and technological advances, besides the COVID vaccine, that can be expected this year.

New way of developing vaccines to fight virus

It was the COVID pandemic that accelerated research into the development of vaccines using messenger RNA. Until now, vaccine development involved using dead, inactivated or weakened microbes or their cellular components. The limitation of this method is that a new vaccine has to be developed from scratch to deal with each new threat.

But, companies such as Moderna and Pfizer adopted a new method called 'platform technology' to fight against COVID. The messenger RNA, the genetic material of the coronavirus, is attached to nanoparticles and then injected into volunteers. This helps strengthen the immune system in the body to fight the virus.

This method significantly reduces the time required to develop a vaccine. It may also help to quickly find a way to fight other viruses in future.

Medicine for Alzheimer's

The COVID pandemic had forced research on non-COVID diseases to slow down in the year 2020. Despite that a major drug for Alzheimer's disease is now in the pipeline.

The first drug shown to be effective in reducing the severity of the disease is under the consideration of the authorities in the US. However, some of the adverse effects witnessed during the third phase of trials of the probable medicine have caused some confusion.

Digital twin

The concept of the digital twins is gaining popularity with the advancements in the fields of IoT and autonomous cars. It is basically the virtual form of everything that we use.

Say, for example, we plan to buy a new car. The 'digital twin' of the car will be available with the company. It will collect information from the car's sensors and keep updating itself. The company and the owner will be notified about the car's maintenance time, malfunctions and other issues.

Even human beings can have digital twins. By collecting and evaluating information obtained through smart watches and other such smart wearables we use, doctors will even be able to determine when deadly diseases such as cancer will strike.

Edge Computing

Currently, we are dependent on cloud technology to collect and process large amounts of information. However, transferring the information to and from the cloud could take some time. This problem of latency is a challenge in face-recognition and autonomous driving technologies. Edge computing offers a solution to this problem.

As the processing and exchange of information takes place through EDGE servers, more speed and self-sufficiency can be ensured.

It will be in use in many industries by the end of this year.

Powerful telescope

NASA's James Webb Telescope project to shed more light on the mysteries of the universe will be completed in 2021. It is a complex telescope that will be the largest and most powerful in the world.

There will be more innovations this year. You could see automation necessitated by COVID, a backpack that will help monitor the activity of the brain and nervous system, solution to age-related problems through regenerating of old cells, smart clothes that indicate moods, a program to convert the same space into an office, bedroom and kitchen as needed, and even herds of locusts that can help detect bombs.

(The author is a nano researcher and a professor at the University of Central Florida in the US)

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