Imperial College London and the Vodafone Foundation charity are running a study on COVID-19 research called Corona-AI, to publish in a peer-reviewed journal.
Volunteers donate their smartphone computing time to the DreamLab app by simply downloading the app and letting it crunch thousands of calculations while they sleep.
By creating a virtual supercomputer, the app searches through digital simulations of food molecules to assess which combination of nutrients may offer benefits to treat COVID-19.
DreamLab is available worldwide and currently has users in 17 countries.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Corona-AI project divides small parts of the task to the 100,000 smartphone users currently signed up to the project, allowing the research to reach completion up to three times faster than the supercomputers.
Working while users are asleep, at six hours per night, the app uses an algorithm to analyse the food and drug combinations that will help fight the virus. The same task can be accomplished in only three months as opposed to years.
These findings can then be translated into dietary advice needed for patients recovering from the virus or the so-called 'long Covid' symptoms.
So far, researchers have found more than 50 specific molecules that could theoretically have anti-COVID-19 properties.
A number of food items have already been identified for their anti-viral properties, particularly plant-based foods like blackcurrants, cranberries and blueberries.
Through the research, several existing diabetes and heart diseases medicines such as simvastatin, atorvastatin and metformin, have been found to have the potential to be repurposed against COVID-19.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
Although news regarding an imminent global vaccine roll-out has generally been received positively, Google has taken on COVID-19 vaccine misinformation by investing in fact-checking initiatives to remove misleading content.
The UK will also use AI to process the adverse reactions of the COVID-19 vaccinations. Software company, Genpact UK has been paid £1.5 million for its AI tool.
In recent global news, major concerns have been expressed as admissions have continued to go up during the festive period. Italy still has the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe and Germany has tightened its restrictions as cases reach a record high.
The UK has also seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, particularly in London as it moves to Tier 3 from Wednesday, England's highest tier of coronavirus restrictions.
ON THE RECORD
Dr Kirill Veselkov from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, who is leading the research, said: “We urgently need new treatments to tackle COVID-19. There are existing drugs out there that might work to treat it, and the great thing about repurposing existing drugs is that we already know they are safe to use and so we could potentially get them to patients quickly.
“However, we have to do difficult and complicated analyses using artificial intelligence to find out which molecule or combinations of molecules might be able to disrupt the virus when it’s inside the body. We want to target not just one protein but the whole network that the virus creates in order to survive. Then we can see which drugs containing these molecules might be possible candidates to fight the virus, and we can also look at which foods containing helpful molecules might boost the body’s ability to fend it off.
"All of this takes a huge amount of computing power and DreamLab creates a supercomputer that enables us to do this important work in a relatively short timeframe."