NEW YORK – Prompted in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University and the Human Vaccines Project on Tuesday announced a joint effort to accelerate the development of new vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments with the help of artificial intelligence.
Called the Human Immunomics Initiative, the new project will bring together subject-matter experts in epidemiology, causal inference, immunology, and computational and systems biology in search of new, AI-assisted immunological models. According to the partner organizations, the Human Immunomics Initiative aims to take advantage of new insights in genomics, systems biology, and bioinformatics to develop insights into effective immunity in aging populations.
Those at least 60 years of age are considered to be at high risk for COVID-19 infection and mortality.
"The world's population is aging at unprecedented rates, significantly increasing the burden of noncommunicable diseases and vulnerability to infectious diseases, as evidenced by the current COVID-19 pandemic," Human Vaccines Project President and CEO Wayne Koff said in a statement. "The complexity of the human immune system has confounded efforts to prevent and control diseases in aging populations, and this collaboration will marry expansive data collection through clinical research with new technologies and cutting-edge science to catalyze new approaches to fighting major global diseases."
The partners said that the initiative will launch with a pilot phase looking at how immunity changes as people age, working with blood samples from thousands of people enrolled in epidemiological studies worldwide, and building models by combining unspecified new testing methods with AI and biological science.
Michelle Williams, dean of Harvard Chan, noted that the Human Vaccines Project has sought to change how researchers address diseases by decoding the human immunome. "The way we fight disease is broken. We launch into disease-specific battles without understanding the rules that affect our chances of success," she said.
"Successful vaccination requires four components: knowing the vaccine target, what kind of immune response you want, how to generate that response, and understanding responses in the people who you want to vaccinate," added Sarah Fortune, chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard Chan.