Involvement with the COVID-19 Disease Map project

Updated May 17, 2020

The COVID-19 Disease Map project is an international, multi-disciplinary effort, which aims to uncover and describe the molecular interactions involved in COVID-19. The ultimate goal is to provide the necessary research to find a cure for the disease. This project currently involves over 150 researchers from across the globe, and the number is expected to increase over the next few weeks.

“The global community of Biomedical Systems, Virology, and Pathology experts are coming together to try to understand the molecular background of the disease,” said Professor Hiroaki Kitano of the Integrated Open Systems Unit at OIST, who is part of this project. “By creating a database of information about the molecular interactions, this international collaboration is providing a useful resource for other researchers to build on.”  

Professor Kitano has previously looked at how the influenza virus (H1N1 and H5N1) interacts with its host. “Both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 are viruses. While there are differences, they have similarities as well,” he explained.

Alongside Professor Kitano’s expertise in infectious diseases, OIST is providing technology that has a pivotal role in this project, such as CellDesigner software, Systems Biology Markup Language, and Systems Biology Graphical Notation.  

Over the next few weeks, the researchers will continue to develop the molecular interaction data and may start to perform simulations to uncover the dynamics of the molecular interaction network. Although research on COVID-19 has only been undertaken over the last few weeks, the international effort behind this kind of technology has been ongoing for over ten years, applied for a variety of biomedical problems.  

This database could also be utilized in future epidemics and pandemics. “The fundamental process of virus infection shares a lot,” explained Professor Kitano. “We have suffered from emergent viruses in the past. We will be threatened in the future. Creating a comprehensive molecular interaction map for a range of viruses, not only SARS-CoV-2, and host reactions will be an extremely useful resource. It will improve readiness at a basic research level to quickly uncover mechanisms and possible intervention options against emerging viruses in the future.”