Building an integrative and dynamic ‘Omics data hub for COVID-19 (and future pandemics) to enable Switzerland to PREVAIL!
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a heightened awareness of virus infection susceptibility. Natural variability to viral infection, disease etiology, and differences in outcome occur because of genetic variation. Additional factors are also likely present that result in the differences in symptoms and/or risk of death that are observed between individuals of different age, gender, and ethnicity. Understanding the profile of host receptors, combined with meta-data on acquired infections, can help elucidate biomarkers for treatment. Most infectious agents (virus, bacteria) take advantage of the host’s cellular machinery to infect, replicate, and continue their lifecycle. Variability in the human population needs to be understood to determine who is at most risk, while fast access to this database is critical for health care responders / government. Here we propose, PREVAILS, as a platform that engages individuals to contribute to a collaborative database of genome and health meta-data. We shall provide individuals with a highest level of security/encryption for their data, having the right to give or withdraw their consent for the use of their data at any point and improve their awareness on the topic with genetic counseling. This platform is designed to be collaborative and integrative, to enable rapid and easy collaboration for data access, consent retrieval and participant recruitment for trials. Owing to its dynamic nature, the platform stays up-to-date in terms of healthcare reports, identification of biomarkers, personalised medical information.
To facilitate our communication by keeping the social distancing we used several applications to share our discussions and ideas, namely: Zoom, Google share documents, Slack. For our presentation and deliverables, we used Microsoft Suite (Powerpoint, Word). For the visual description of our idea we used the ZOOM app to record and Final Cut Pro to edit our video.
Our greatest accomplishment in the last 48hrs was first of all the presentation of an idea which could have an immediate social impact in the fight against COVID-19, with the possibility also to expand for future pandemic strategies. Besides the idea itself, we are proud of our collaboration regarding decision making, reaching consensus and catalysing an idea to product with patience and openness. Overall, we went from nothing to a framework and roadmap for future work on this project.
The most difficult point to address in our discussions in the shaping of this idea, was the sensitivity of personal and medical data. We realise that there is a mismatch between the technological advances and the ethical requirements for secure data storing (GDPR) and use. We believe that it is essential for individuals to have the highest level of security/encryption for their data, having the right to give or withdraw their consent for the use of their data at any point and improve their awareness on the topic with genetic counseling. All these are mature topics of discussion nowadays, in order for a society to reap the benefit of genetic studies.
We learnt the skills of team-building with a set of unknown parameters before this Hackathlon. Being part of a team with a wide spectrum of experiences and professional backgrounds, hackathon was for each one of us a unique experience for learning and respectful collaboration. At the end of the VersusVirus experience, we definitely feel more aware about the COVID-19 crisis and the challenges we still face as a society.
We are eager to build an operational demo in collaboration with stakeholders all over Switzerland. We plan to set up new partnerships and engage in collaboration with existing research and sequencing centers. In parallel, we will apply for the VirusVersus Incubator program and work on finalizing our business model.