A truck bearing the Amazon Prime logo arrives at the Amazon logistics center in Lauwin-Planque
(Photo : REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol) A truck bearing the Amazon Prime logo arrives at the Amazon logistics center in Lauwin-Planque, northern France, March 19, 2020.

Two brilliant radiology professors and a fellow engineer teamed up to develop an alternative way to diagnose patients with COVID-19 by using CT scan diagnostics through the help of cloud computing giant Amazon's subsidiary, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

A truck bearing the Amazon Prime logo arrives at the Amazon logistics center in Lauwin-Planque
(Photo : REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol)
A truck bearing the Amazon Prime logo arrives at the Amazon logistics center in Lauwin-Planque, northern France, March 19, 2020.

People Behind the Project

Dr. Savvas Nicolaou is the current director of emergency and trauma radiology at the Vancouver General Hospital in Canada. At the same time, Dr. William Parker is a radiology resident at the University of British Columbia. They are joined by Nicolaou's business partner, engineer Brian Lee. The three are now working together to gather chest x-rays and CT scans of coronavirus patients to build an open-source artificial intelligence (AI) model that will help analyze how COVID-19 displays in the lungs of infected people. Nicolaou, Parker, and Lee are looking into the possibility of developing an alternative method of diagnosing patients other than existing tests. Dr. Parker said that they have previously worked on the AI model trained on chest x-rays, and they thought that they could use that model on COVID-19.

AWS Public Sector vice president Teresa Carlson said that Nicolaou and Parker's team is the first public diagnostic customer of AWS to develop coronavirus diagnostic tools. It can be recalled that last March, AWS offered an initial $20 million in cloud credits and technical support under its global Diagnostic Development Initiative to aid organizations and individuals to speed up the research and development of diagnostic tools for COVID-19. Initially, about 35 global research institutions, startups, and businesses were involved in the AWS project. Since then, AWS is reviewing an additional 45 applications from customers.

Typically, selected projects received financial funding to compete for the research. But under this AWS initiative, chosen projects are getting a break on what they would generally have to pay AWS as a credit to their account. On the other hand, tech support allows organizations and individuals to access AWS specialists, although the level of tech support differs from one project to another.

Carlson recounted that they received hundreds of calls from customers urging AWS to partner on initiative concerning the fight against the COVID-19 action. She added that this led to the formulation of the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative. She hopes that this initiative will encourage many participating institutions to work together to speed up the fight against the coronavirus.

World Health Organization's digital health technical advisory group co-chair Steve Davis explained that the need for new diagnostics is a top priority for the current global public health problem since there are inadequate funding and coordination on the diagnoses of this pandemic.

Carlson said that with its initial $20 million investment, AWS hopes that it can accelerate the point of care diagnostics of the coronavirus pandemic in the next one to two years.

Health systems around the world are currently struggling to cope with the pace that the coronavirus is sweeping the countries worldwide. Health officials, doctors, and scientists are demanding better testing schemes to detect infected individuals and lessen its transmission. AWS is answering this call and currently on the forefront to develop better coronavirus diagnostics tools.

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