Iowa State computer scientists launch data science infrastructure to advance COVID-19 research

April 13, 2020

Dr. Hridesh Rajan (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)As researchers and public-health experts join forces to battle COVID-19, computer scientists from Iowa State University have developed a data science infrastructure that will drastically improve research efficiencies for scientists who study the novel coronavirus.

This first-of-its-kind infrastructure galvanizes sixty years of coronavirus research onto a single, searchable platform. In addition to saving time and reducing costs, this tool may lead to quicker research breakthroughs and also accelerate the time-to-market of effective antiviral therapies and life-saving vaccines.

“There are more than 44,000 published papers on coronaviruses that could provide game-changing insights into COVID-19,” said Hridesh Rajan, interim chair of the Department of Computer Science and Kingland Professor of Data Science. “We’ve unified a large trove of research onto a single platform. Now, virologists, epidemiologists and public-health officials can harness this critical data from an organized, indexed and searchable database.”

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960’s.The common cold, as well as SARS and MERS are coronaviruses. SARS-CoV-2 is the novel coronavirus dominating current headlines and causing worldwide exponential growth of coronavirus disease, or COVID-19

Increasing the speed of research
With its user-friendly, web-based interface, Iowa State’s innovative tool acts as a COVID-19 information superhighway of sorts—enabling scientists to quickly and efficiently locate, navigate and analyze coronavirus research from all over the world.

“We’ve removed all barriers to entry for these researchers,” said Rajan. “They don’t have to spend time searching, storing or cleaning up the data. They can get started immediately because we’ve completed that work for them.”

A central graph, which is currently in development, will visually link these six decades of coronavirus research. Knowledge, data and research findings from thousands of peer-reviewed studies, journal articles and papers will be available and subdivided into key categories.

“This segmenting will enable a richer analysis of three COVID-19 research focuses,” said Rajan. “These categories include: The development of antiviral treatments; the discovery of a safe and effective vaccine; and the in-depth analysis of coronavirus origins and transmission rates which could lessen the likelihood of future coronavirus outbreaks,” said Rajan.

Rajan also notes that improving the logistics of coronavirus research could also foster increased scientific collaboration. Researchers from all over the globe—across many scientific disciplines—can now join forces, share information and capitalize on prior research as they work to combat COVID-19.

Researchers from the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University launched this critical cyberinfrastructure on March 29.