Green light for £140K COVID-19 mass screening research

Aberdeen researchers will use artificial intelligence to try to fast-track a test to allow mass screening for COVID-19, after the £140,000 project was green lit by the Scottish Government.

Existing tests can be unreliable and some are not suited to rapid, mass deployment.

The University of Aberdeen team will work with Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd (VAL) and will use VAL’s proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) technology to identify the specific elements of the virus that trigger the body’s defence systems.

It’s hoped this approach could allow the development of a sensitive test that could be used for mass screening of NHS staff/keyworkers, identification of high-risk patients/carriers, provide data on the prevalence of COVID-19, surveillance and in the future allow targeted vaccination programs.

The project was proposed in response to the Scottish Government’s CSO Rapid Research in COVID-19 programme call which was developed to support leading research at Scotland’s universities which could help the national effort.

In addition to the £101,903 from the Scottish Government, the project is being supported by a £38,000 in kind contribution from VAL – a biotech spinout company from the University of Aberdeen specialising in the design and production of sensitive and selective antibodies against multiple targets. Dr Tiehui Wang, co-investigator from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, will also play a key role.

The project is due to last six months.

Lead investigator, Professor Mirela Delibegovic from the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition at the University of Aberdeen said: “By working with VAL’s team and using their established expertise in antibody design and production enhanced by harnessing artificial intelligence, we hope to create a diagnostic test that can quickly and effectively identify COVID-19 in individuals.”

“By employing this innovative approach, we hope to achieve high-throughput capacity in a proven format that will enable mass testing which could benefit key workers and the most vulnerable members of society.”

Dr Ayham Alnabulsi, Co- founder & CEO of VAL said: “Vertebrate Antibodies is pleased that it is able to contribute its proprietary AI technology, EpitopePredikt, and the expertise of its technical team to help develop an assay that could underpin a test that would help with the national effort to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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