When the COVID-19 pandemic hit early in 2020, Vector Institute in Toronto had to close its labs and send its students and faculty to work at home. Dr. Bo Wang, Lead Artificial Intelligence Scientist at the University Health Network and Faculty Member at Vector, redirected his team to prioritize urgent COVID-19 research. Ph.D. student Hassaan Maan, who works in Dr. Wang’s lab on machine learning for healthcare, wanted to help in the global efforts to combat the pandemic’s impact, too. He had an idea: a web-based visualization tool to process public COVID-19 viral genome data.
With Dr. Samira Mubareka of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center and Dr. Andrew McArthur, associate professor in the department of biochemistry and biomedical sciences and director of the biomedical discovery & commercialization program at McMaster University, Maan developed the COVID-19 Genotyping Tool (CGT). The application provides insights into transmission pathways, outbreak epicenters, and key viral mutations. It allows users to upload viral genome data from patients anywhere in the world and analyze it in real-time. “In doing so,” says Wang, “they can determine the context of local events with respect to the global picture, and help shape local health policy and alert the community to any key changes in viral evolution.”