OpenCOVID-19: Fighting the virus through open source

We met with Thomas Landrain, an AXA Research Fund supported researcher, and long-time advocate of open research, to discuss his latest project: a digital global open science coalition of researchers, engineers, health professionals, computer scientists and citizens. Supported by the AXA Research Fund, the program aims to design open source solutions for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. ALL NEWS  |  Risk & Research
Mar 24, 2020

Thomas, could you explain the OpenCOVID-19 initiative?

The OpenCOVID-19 Initiative seeks to bring together individuals and groups from a variety of backgrounds and fields to create the solutions we need to address the COVID-19 pandemic and develop a comprehensive and open collection of these solutions and research. We have divided our efforts into three main challenges:

  • Prevention: preventing the spread of COVID-19 and decreasing the scale of the pandemic;
  • Detection & Diagnosis: detecting the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in patients and in the environment;
  • Treatment & Therapeutics: developing solutions to treat the symptoms of COVID-19.

So far, more than 2000 contributors have joined the program from all continents and are working on open source and low-cost solutions such as masks, ventilators, diagnosis tests and apps helping users to adopt the right habits.

How is collaboration organized?

On the one hand, we have created a collaborative scientific platform called Just One Giant Lab (JOGL). This platform is at the core of the program: anyone can join and create a profile and a project. And because we know the skills of the community members and the needs of the projects, the JOGL platform matches them and enables anyone to find a project to contribute to. The projects and contributors are sorted by relevancy and the most relevant receive more visibility. Besides, project leaders are free to use any complementary tools to document their projects and data, as long as it remains open source. Basically, it is a very large research center composed of volunteering professionals and students in both research and administration positions. This is what JOGL enables. 

On the other hand, the initiative has different advisory groups, composed of volunteering experts, who provide clear and advanced answers to the projects’ questions and needs. So far we have a biosafety and biosecurity board and working groups for software, data science, hardware and design. For managing the program and the community, we also have groups composed of JOGL team members and volunteers who have communication and management skills. These management groups manage the coordination of the various challenges, make sure that information circulates well between different projects and handle the onboarding of new participants.

Why is it important to have contributors from different backgrounds and fields?

The COVID-19 crisis doesn’t care about disciplines, it is urging us to react in fields as different as reanimation, large scale diagnosis, fake news propagation and contamination prevention. In order to have a global response, we need to not only understand the problem, experiment and prototype solutions, but also manufacture and distribute validated methods and tools, manage large group of collaborators and partners, while maintaining high-level of transparency. It becomes clear that scientists, engineers, coders, healthcare professionals, industrial designers, project managers, community managers and more need to collaborate in order to achieve our objectives. 

What are the most impactful projects underway and when can we expect a prototype and or potential scale up?

The first step of the OpenCOVID-19 initiative is to identify or create the right protocols and blueprints. This step needs a lot of prototyping in local laboratories (medical facilities, fablabs, workshops, R&D labs, community labs, etc.) before we converge toward common accessible solutions we can produce and scale. These prototyping and R&D steps are critically relying on the collective intelligence that JOGL enables. But local laboratories will need to pay for materials and consumables. We are supporting local labs with access to expertise and guidance (such as with our biosafety and biosecurity board) and resources through our partners such as the AXA Research Fund. 

The first output of the OpenCOVID-19 initiative is going to be the validation of the best open source and low-cost designs for protective gear such as masks or face shield. Our role is to provide manufacturers with clear guidelines to distinguish a truly good design from a rubbish one. 

There are currently more than 30 projects related to COVID-19. We have high expectations on the development of low-cost diagnosis tools for COVID-19 that will be useful for both patients testing and environmental monitoring (tracking where the virus is in cities). We are also confident in the development of apps that will help track how the virus moves and let people know if they have been potentially infected or not. And finally, the development of parts for low-cost ventilators that can be deployed easily. 

One thing is certain, as this initiative responds to the need for speed in the fight against the Covid19 pandemic, what will be produced is also open knowledge and technology that will become a basis for fighting any other epidemic in the foreseeable future.

Thomas Landrain is Co-Founder & President at JOGL.io - Just One Giant Lab. Thomas Landrain is now one of the leading lights of open science – a principle he strives to promote as much as possible. He was supported by the AXA Research Fund in 2009.