Two years on from the World Health Organization declaring it a pandemic on March 11, 2020, we cannot discuss scientific developments in isolation of COVID-19’s ramifications.
Scientists were able to revolutionize how vaccines are developed; the process used to take years, and they managed to develop a vaccine against this virus in 10 months.
While scientists believe that we will have to live with this virus, dealing with it as an endemic, the scientists developing this vaccine expect a new generation of these vaccines to be released in 2022. Some of those vaccines might be developed using the traditionally recognized mechanisms, which rely on cell proteins rather than RNA, with developers seeking vaccines more efficacious for fighting off the coronavirus’s various variants and strains.
The rapid success of the COVID-19 vaccines will play a role in making the research into the vaccines for other viruses like AIDS and malaria progress faster.
Scientists also expect biotechnology, environmental sciences, cell biology and medical research to move at a faster pace due to the spike they have seen in material investment, whether from governments or the private sector, in the development of vaccines and other medical tools through gene technology.
This leads us to the second field that is expected to make strides this year, personalized medicine, which renders the treatment given to each patient dependent on their particular case using genetic and nanorobots - tiny sensors that are smaller than the virus and can be inserted into the patient’s body and used to eliminate cancerous cells or deliver a targeted drug to these cells inside the body.
Another major development expected this year is a major improvement in our ability to detect several types of tumors early on using DNA blood tests.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic (CRISPR), a gene-editing technology, will also play a significant role in helping us overcome many genetic diseases caused by genetic mutations. CRISPR allows us to use enzymes to cut a stretch of the damaged DNA and turn it back to normal, thereby enabling us to modify the defective genes in human bodies.
Technologically, we will see renewable energies make marked progress, reliance on sustainable energy increase, and green energy being generated using new energy technologies, which will significantly slow global warming and climate change down.
Additionally, we will see the evolution of artificial intelligence leave a critical impact on all aspects of our lives. Perhaps, as this artificial intelligence technology develops, we could see self-driving and environmentally-friendly electric cars becoming prevalent.
We cannot conclude our predictions of this year’s scientific developments without talking about the new space race. China is expected to put the final touches on its space station in 2022, and the Indian Space Research Organization will send its spacecraft, Chandrayaan-3, on a moon mission this year as well. The Chandrayaan program had a hand in the discovery of water molecules on the moon.
Also, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will launch its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) in 2022, with the lander expected to make important discoveries upon landing on the moon’s surface.
Also, in November 2022, the European Space Agency will announce its new astronaut program.
As for private-sector space aviation companies, like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, they have competing space tourism programs and are racing to increase the number of citizens sent to space in 2022 and enhance space flights.
The quest to discover the red planet (Mars) will continue. Another robotic explorer will land on Mars this year as part of the ExoMars program, a joint project between the European and Russian space agencies.
Finally, we have archeology. Critical information about beings whose existence on this planet predates that of humanity will emerge this year because of the momentum of scientific discoveries made by extracting and examining DNA from the soil of fossils that date back to over a million years.
These are the developments that we will witness in 2022 despite the virus spreading around the world. They speak to humanity’s extraordinary ability to adapt and develop despite the environmental conditions it finds itself in, as well as our capacity for survival and constant innovation.
*Khawla Al-Kuraya is a Visiting Professor of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Harvard.