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Zhong Nanshan on how Guangzhou National Laboratory prepares for future respiratory disease threats

Founded in 2021 as a national-level lab, the Guangzhou National Laboratory has three major tasks, namely dealing with sudden public health events, safeguarding people's health, and achieving breakthroughs in core technology and equipment. What role can the Guangzhou National Laboratory play in the world's response to early warning, prevention and control of respiratory diseases?

At the forefront

Taking a comprehensive approach to healthcare, Zhong Nanshan, Chinese Academy of Engineering academician and Director of the Guangzhou National Laboratory, highlighted the transformation from empirical therapy to evidence-based medicine and the integration of basic medical research and clinical practice. This approach emphasizes the dissemination of innovative results to grassroots levels, focusing on simplicity, affordability, effectiveness, and safety.

Zhong Nanshan, Chinese Academy of Engineering academician and Director of the Guangzhou National Laboratory. (Photo: GDToday)

"With a history of major global infectious diseases marked by SARS, MERS, and COVID-19, which were easily transmitted across species from animals including bats and pangolins, the imperative lies in preparing for future pandemics," said Zhong. Lessons from past research on diseases underscore the importance of targeted treatments and proactive measures. However, despite advancements, challenges remain in developing effective medications and vaccines against emerging threats.

Moreover, addressing both chronic and acute respiratory illnesses is paramount for ensuring public safety. Attention to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and early detection and diagnosis of lung cancer is essential for improving survival rates. According to Zhong, treating symptoms promptly is crucial, particularly as treatment options and efficacy of respiratory illnesses like COPD lag behind other conditions such as hypertension.

In 2021, the team led by Professor Dong Ming at the Guangzhou National Laboratory, together with Guangzhou Zhaorui Medical Biotechnology Co., Ltd., developed the world's first fully automatic microfluidic exosome extraction, purification, and enrichment all-in-one equipment. It is designed for early diagnosis of various chronic respiratory diseases.

Fully automatic microfluidic exosome extraction, purification, and enrichment all-in-one equipment. (Photo provided to GDToday)

Zhong noted that there is a pressing need to address technological barriers, particularly in ensuring the safety and efficacy of medical equipment. Investments in advanced technologies such as the transmission electron microscope are essential for enhancing diagnostic capabilities and addressing emerging health challenges.

China's first domestically produced transmission electron microscope, the TH-F120 (Photo provided to GDToday)

Revolutionizing biomedical research

The biomedical big data operating system (Bio-OS) developed by the Guangzhou National Labortary and Beijing Volcano Engine Technology Co., Ltd, is a cutting-edge research support system based on cloud-native and container technologies. It integrates data, operator, computing power resources, and an application marketplace specifically tailored for biomedical data-intensive research.

Bio-OS is designed to create standardized, user-friendly and easily accessible scientific analysis platforms, reducing the computational complexity faced by researchers in handling massive datasets. This innovative system marks a significant advancement in facilitating efficient and streamlined biomedical research processes, ultimately enhancing data analysis capabilities and accelerating scientific discoveries in the field.

The biomedical big data operating system (Bio-OS). (Photo provided to GDToday)

"By integrating biological and artificial intelligence, this approach enhances the accuracy of predictive models built from such data. This is particularly crucial for drug prediction, where artificial intelligence is used to forecast broad-spectrum antibodies through extensive screening and analysis," said Zhong.

He added, "The usage of artificial intelligence is inevitable in our future endeavors. By encompassing more data into the AI system, we can improve the accuracy of our predictions and warnings."

Global collaboration 

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, in Zhong's opinion, presents a unique opportunity for scientific collaboration, with both sides poised to benefit from each other's strengths. 

Over the years, Hong Kong has led the way in certain fundamental theoretical research areas, and Guangdong has established early connections with Hong Kong and Macao. Due to the global nature of infectious diseases, scientists have transcended borders to form a "Pandemic Research Alliance," comprising four countries and six institutions.

This alliance includes renowned figures such as Dr. David Ho from Columbia University and Nobel laureate Peter Doherty from Australia. Collaborations extend to esteemed institutions including Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, the University of Hong Kong, and Tsinghua University. Together, they have initiated the alliance focused on predicting and warning potential emerging infectious diseases, serving as a promising initiative in global health security.

Guangzhou National Laboratory's third collaboration project involves engaging in virus monitoring of animals in Southeast Asian countries, targeting potential sources of epidemics. "By proactively monitoring these animals for viruses, we can identify and address potential problems at an early stage. This proactive approach not only benefits our country but also extends its positive impact to the global community," said Zhong.

In addition, by establishing a bilateral relationship with Portugal's INESC, a prominent research institute specializing in computer science and technology, known for its expertise in developing advanced AI algorithms and systems, Guangzhou National Laboratory is working on developing an epidemic outbreak prediction and warning system. 

"This collaborative effort is expected to significantly enhance our future research capabilities, broaden our horizons, and improve our detection capabilities," said Zhong.

Related news:

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How Guangzhou National Laboratory's ultra-fast qPCR apparatus safeguards global biosafety

Reporter | Hannah, Xie Chunhong (intern)

Video | Zhang Tianxiong

Editor | Nan, Steven, Will, James

With help from Clarice.

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