COVID-19: How tech can keep us one step ahead of the pandemic
COVID-19: How tech can keep us one step ahead of the pandemic
10:28

COVID-19: How tech can keep us one step ahead of the pandemic

Science
[BLANK AUDIO] [NOISE] A mysterious virus. An unexplained illness. An early outbreak that swept across the world. In 2020, the threat of a global pandemic suddenly became a reality. And the world was completely caught off guard. We faced disease outbreaks before. SOS Zika Ebola. But what happens when a virus gets out of control and goes global? We're on a mission to show you the cutting edge science and technology that could help us Back, back. [MUSIC] [BLANK_AUDIO] When we started working on this series in 2019, we set out to learn everything we could about pandemics. Back then the idea of a terrifying global outbreak felt like the stuff of science fiction. Our best defense has been social distancing. But we wanted to speak to the world's leading experts to find out what it would look like in real life. And before long, one thing was clear. It wasn't a matter of if. That when. Another one will happen sometime we just don't know when. Well, the Coronavirus has now spread to nearly 100 countries and territories. The entire country has now been placed under lockdown. The World Health Organization officially characterize the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic today. When the new Coronavirus first hit China, doctors didn't know what they were looking at. China went into lockdown to try and contain the virus but it was too late cases of COVID-19 the disease caused by this new Corona virus. [SOUND] Started appearing around the world. The Coronavirus quickly drew comparisons to the great flu pandemic of 1918. Back then one third of the human population was infected, and over the course of two years 50 to 100 million people died. [MUSIC] I got a taste of what that dock time was like at the motor Museum in Philadelphia. [MUSIC] According to historian Robert Hicks, patients could go from feeling healthy to being dead in a matter of hours. [MUSIC] It is not a pretty picture, headaches, fatigue, maybe loss of appetite. In the severe cases where it became lethal, the skin might start to turn blue. The lung disintegration would sound like something crunching so if you take a bubble wrap and crunch it in your hands You're getting that popping sensation that you might hear from a flu victim on the way out. While the world has seen epidemics before. Historians and health experts still don't completely understand why this one hits so hard. Nobody knows why the flu pandemic was so catastrophic. There have been flu before. The word had been in a common usage. And it meant specific symptoms. It didn't mean just a bad cold, which is the way some people talk about it now. But it meant a very serious debilitating disease that one soldier who got in World War I said, it was like being clubbed with a big wooden mallet all the time. Can it happen now? Yes, won't happen in the future. The experts say it's just a matter of time. [MUSIC] But how can the world possibly prepare for a global disaster if we don't know? It's coming? Back in 2019, we met with Dr. Eric toner from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. He's one of the world's leading experts in pandemics and he knows what it takes to fight a disease on a global scale. What takes us from a couple of outbreaks of people having the sniffles to a massive pandemic? All epidemics tend to start slowly. It's one person infecting a couple other people who infect a couple of more people, and so it builds very slowly and so we almost always miss the beginning of an epidemic. Is there a chance that we could be caught off guard by some sort of horrible Mutant bat influenza or something like that. Yes, we probably will be. That's, that's the nature of these things. We had no idea about something like SARS. We had no idea about MERS. We had no idea about Zika we have no idea what's gonna pop up next, but we have systems in place that we can. <<see it="" where="" pops="" up="" first="" and="" so="" gives="" us="" a="" little="" bit="" of="" time="" to="" prepare.="" if="" we="" don't="" happen="" be="" unlucky="" enough="" in="" the="" city="" appeared="">> [MUSIC] <<coronavirus began="" in="" china="" several="" months="" ago="" and="" since="" then="" the="" virus="" fear="" of="" it="" have="" been="" spreading="" around="" world="">></coronavirus></see> [MUSIC] So I'm here in my apartment and in the few months it's been since we interviewed Eric toner, things have totally changed. The whole of San Francisco where I am is on a citywide lockdown, meaning we can't leave our houses unless it's for essential work or travel. People working from home and everyone is kind of scared. So, in this context, I wanted to catch up with Eric toner again and find out just what we're facing now that we're in this new world order of a global Coronavirus pandemic. This is unlike anything we've seen before. And there is No way to completely stop this it can't be contained it can only be slowed down. When did you first realize that this was going to be so serious? Well some time in mid to late January it started to become obvious that this was. Something that was unprecedented in our lifetimes. This is gonna end up being a truly historic, historically bad around. The Coronavirus is covered in lots of tiny spike proteins. These spikes attached to receptors in our lungs and create openings in the cell walls. The virus injects its genetic material into the cell and takes over. Forcing the cell to make more and more copies of the virus. The cell explodes and shoots out thousands more virus particles. Are lungs becoming inflamed. They swell it filled with fluid and, in severe cases, end up killing people. Because their lungs failed. But there is hope. Researchers are working on a way to transfer immunity. helping people fight the virus before they even get sick. [MUSIC] At the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center in Nashville, Tennessee scientists are analyzing the blood of patients who've recovered from COVID-19. Researchers are looking for antibodies, tiny proteins made by white blood cells. When a patient is infected with coronavirus, their white blood cells create these antibodies to fight the virus. The antibodies bind with the viruses spike proteins, stopping them from penetrating human cells and effectively neutralizing the virus. Some antibodies work better than others. That's what the team at Vanderbilt is looking for. The antibodies that are the best at hunting down and neutralizing the virus. Once they're isolated, they can be grown in a lab and give it to other patients to boost their immunity and the best part, it could lead to a treatment by the end of 2020. a medication that could be given to high risk people before they get coronavirus. Analyzing blood samples isn't the only way to find virus killers. [MUSIC]. Down the road from Vanderbilt at the University of Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a team of researchers is trying to find existing drugs that could fight Coronavirus and they're doing it with the help of the world's most powerful supercomputer. The research is simulated the virus on summit, the supercomputer developed for the levar trade by IBM In the simulations, they pitted the virus against drugs that are already available. They wanted to see if the drug molecule could bind to the virus to stop it sticking to human cells. Using the immense computing power of summit, they found 77 drug compounds that might just work [MUSIC] Fighting a global pandemic, is not a short battle. This research takes time. But unlike a century ago, when the world was blindsided by influenza, this time, we've got technology on our side. Technology has really revolutionized our response to this being able to Communicate around the world in real time. Technology is revolutionizing the way in which we can make drugs and vaccines, to do it much faster than we could ever do it before. [MUSIC] Many of the ways we can fight a pandemic haven't changed in centuries, self isolation, Florentine all really low fi ways of stopping the spread. But in 2020 and beyond, it's reassuring to know that technology can give us an edge. [SOUND] [MUSIC].

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