Very early on it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was not just a challenge for scientists and medical professionals. Almost a year into the coronavirus’s rampage across the world, there’s no doubt about the long-term impact that SARS-CoV-2 will continue to have on every facet of human life — from healthcare to education, social interaction, businesses, environmental concerns, and political processes.
India’s large population, governance, and creaky healthcare infrastructure have traditionally hampered the quick and smooth roll out of public health interventions. With this pandemic, it wasn’t any different. Nature India covered the evolution of the crisis from several angles, going beyond the strict remit of science. Our coverage embraced a new normal in these unprecedented times. We looked at the physical and biological aspects of the virus extensively, and also published stories of how India, with its 1.2 billion-strong population, was responding to the health emergency. This resulted in Nature India’s first special issue on the COVID-19 crisis, published in June 2020.
Coping with a major public health catastrophe lies not just in vaccines and treatments, but also technologies that the world’s scientists quickly geared up to invent or repurpose. Within months of the novel coronavirus’ spread we saw the development of new ventilators, rapid antigen tests, personal protection equipment, and sanitization apparatus.
Nature India’s second COVID-19 special, focuses on such engineering and technology solutions being tested and deployed. We take a look at front-runners in nanomaterial design that are helping advanced antiviral and antibacterial therapies; the state-of-the-art in critical care ventilators and how in-silico docking studies are bringing new drug molecules.
The issue presents a selection of commentaries published in various Nature research journals highlighting the use of artificial intelligence tools and machine learning in scaling approaches for data, model and code sharing, and in adapting results to local conditions. Nanotechnology is offering hope in antimicrobial and antiviral formulations, and highly sensitive biosensors and detection platforms.
We ask whether nanoscientists can take better advantage of technology and automation in their laboratories to reveal new information about COVID-19. A host of reverse-engineered commercial medical equipment and devices for healthcare workers have flooded the market. While these ‘low-tech’ solutions are welcome for resource poor countries such as India, we argue that for real impact, they must affiliate to approved designs. We also shine a light on pandemic-fighting photonics tools (X-ray imaging and ultraviolet sterilization), the strengths and ethical questions around smartphone surveillance of the pandemic, and discuss why it is important for governments to implement public health measures aided by technology.
At the end of a trying year, we hope these new perspectives bring additional hope in efforts to tame the novel coronavirus.
The Nature India COVID-19 Engineering Solutions special issue is free to download here.