Predicting Epidemics Like Climate: How Microsoft Can Assist Premonition within the World Combat In opposition to Illness Outbreaks
When Zika appeared on the American continent in 2016, the team had been looking for new approaches to surveillance for about a year. They quickly produced a small fleet of prototypes. These early smart robotic traps, which resemble scale models of circular high-rise condominiums, were designed to attract, autonomously identify, and capture mosquitos, and provide public health officials with streams of data that were previously unavailable. The aim was to help them decide when and where disease-carrying mosquitoes will be – to better understand the risk of Zika.
Project Premonition was first deployed in Harris County, home of the city of Houston, Texas, and has now matured into Microsoft Premonition. Four years later, Microsoft Premonition and Harris County Public Health begin building one of the most advanced biothreat detection networks in an expanded partnership.
“Game-Changing” describes Douglas E. Norris, entomologist and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University, the effects of premonition.
“Everything we do now about treating mosquitoes is reactive – we see a lot of mosquitoes, we spray a lot of mosquitoes,” says Norris, who worked on the project. “Imagine you had a forecasting system that shows that in a few days you will have a lot of mosquitos based on all of these data and these models. Then you could treat them earlier before they bite, spray hit them early so you don’t get the big mosquito flowers which could then lead to the transmission of disease. “
It’s a healthier approach for people and the environment, says Norris. This is also a more cost-effective approach, especially as COVID-19 stresses staff and budget constraints on public health authorities around the world.
Building on the idea of One-Health, a concept that affirms the idea that people’s health depends on the environment in which they live, Premonition helps public health systems better improve the effectiveness of interventions and the cost of different approaches measure up.
“Most of the things that can affect our health, the health of our societies, and our economies are small,” says Jackson. “It’s things like arthropods – like mosquitoes and ticks or microbes and viruses that are even smaller. They are on the scale of millimeters, micrometers and nanometers. “
Microsoft Premonition’s Robot Sensing Platform captures, gathers, aggregates, and analyzes data on these tiny and often seemingly invisible threats.
“Microsoft Premonition obviously has a very different perspective than when we started this project,” said Ethan Jackson, director of Microsoft Premonition. Photo by Microsoft.
“All of the sensor networks we have today – networks that collect data to predict the weather, for example, collect data about the power grid so we can balance it, collect information about what traffic is doing so we can predict it – all of these Sensor networks, which are really hundreds and hundreds of millions of sensors, cannot see these important species, ”says Jackson.
“These life forms that we are talking about are invisible to practically all sensors that we have used worldwide. And that’s pretty incredible when you think about the fact that we have such a huge blind spot about what’s in the environment. “
In 2016, during the highest risk of Zika transmission in Harris County, 10 smart robotic traps were trained to identify and selectively capture relevant mosquitoes, with an accuracy of around 90%. In addition, metagenomic analyzes detected microorganisms and viruses in mosquito samples and identified the animal species that they were fed with.
With the imminent deployment of Microsoft Premonition, Harris County will now have a large-scale sensor network that provides “continuous biological situational awareness,” Jackson said. “So you should be able to look at a map and see what’s going on in real time. What, according to the weather analogy, simply does not exist today. A 24-hour forecast enables them to plan certain interventions in the environment at an early stage. “
“We want a future in which emerging pathogens like Zika in Harris County can be identified and suppressed quickly and fairly,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health.
“This partnership will also evaluate new genomic capabilities to detect known and emerging pathogens from environmental samples – which we now know are particularly important for diseases like COVID-19.”
The future of public health “depends on innovation – innovative science, innovative technology and innovative policy,” he says. “We’re excited to continue this journey with Microsoft as we learn together.”
The next step is to be able to predict “when and where the threat might occur, not just in 24 hours, but in a month,” says Jackson. “And to do that, we’re going to be reshaping and reshaping epidemiological models so we can tell Harris County,” This is one place in a month where the likelihood of a West Nile virus outbreak is high. “Mosquito-borne virus in Harris County.
“We’re trying to solve really important problems that humanity is facing today, on a scale that is incredibly exciting,” said Nicolas Villar, a senior hardware architect. Photo by Microsoft.
For the past five years, Premonition’s technologies have been tested in a wide variety of habitats – from the sand of the Florida Keys to the remote forests of Tanzania, Africa. “Biology is difficult and we want to get it right,” says Jackson. Science cannot be rushed.
Premonition systems are being developed in the Premonition Proving Ground, a state-of-the-art Arthropod Containment Level 2 (ACL-2) facility in which wild mosquitos can be raised, digitized and observed in order to develop identification algorithms and evaluate device designs. The Microsoft Redmond campus is also the hub for the computational scanning of environmental samples that have been received and sequenced from cooperation partners for pathogens.
Stopping disease threats before they cause outbreaks is a cross-disciplinary, cross-industry challenge.
Working closely with science is essential to develop the right technology based on the best understanding of the underlying science. The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded an NSF Fellowship to the Convergence Accelerator, which includes academic partners from Vanderbilt University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, and the University of Pittsburgh . The NSF Convergence Accelerator is one of NSF’s “10 Big Ideas” for accelerating innovation quickly.
“This project will make a lasting contribution to human health and preparation for pandemics,” said the NSF in its award, noting that “the life sciences will be overwhelmed with exponentially scaling deep biome data with genomic information. Convergence must lead to new methods in order to use this data efficiently and derive knowledge autonomously. “
Industrial workers are also critical to success. Bayer, perhaps best known for its aspirin – but also one of the world’s leading agribusiness companies – plays a vital role in providing public health treatments to suppress mosquito populations. In collaboration with other leading vector control companies, for example, they are working to eradicate malaria by 2040. According to the World Health Organization, almost half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria in 2018.
“That’s why we need to have a number of solutions in our toolbox, including those that give us insight,” said Jacqueline Applegate, President of Global Vegetable Seeds and Environmental Science at Bayer. “Microsoft Premonition gives us the opportunity to get a much more realistic perspective.”
The premonition will enable Bayer “to use data, information tools and resources in new ways so that we can fine-tune and optimize our vector control strategies so that they have the greatest impact,” she says. “And as the intervention becomes more specific, we can help free up capacity for countries – often with limited resources – for other public health issues.”