Published: Sat, February 22, 2020
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

AI used to discover Antibiotic that could fight world’s most unsafe bacteria

AI used to discover Antibiotic that could fight world’s most unsafe bacteria

A new antibiotic that kills some of the most risky drug-resistant bacteria in the world has been discovered by with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) for the first time.

Regine Barzilay, one of the researchers at MIT, announced that they are planning a study for more specific bacteria in the new antibiotics to be developed.

The study showed that halicin could clear infections and kill some strains that are resistant to all other antibiotics discovered.

The goal of the computer algorithm was to look at chemical features that make a molecule effective in killing bacteria E.coli. After identifying patterns and commonalities in those data, the model then screened a library of about 6,000 compounds from the Drug Repurposing Hub at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

The model picked out one molecule that was predicted to have strong antibacterial activity and had a chemical structure different from any existing antibiotics.

Since 2014, the United Kingdom has cut the number of antibiotics it uses by more than 7%, but the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections increased by 35% from 2013 to 2017.

The team plans on working on Halicin and other candidate molecules with a pharmaceutical company or nonprofit organization, in order to commence clinical trials and use them safely and effectively in humans in the near future. According to reports, both the Department of Health and Human Services and Regeneron will develop monoclonal antibodies to fight the infection, a different line of treatment to the antiretrovirals and flu drugs that have also emerged as possible defences against the disease.

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The compound was named halicin by the researchers.

In a world first, scientists have discovered a new type of antibiotic using artificial intelligence (AI).

Antibiotic-resistant infections have risen in recent years - up 9% in England between 2017 and 2018, to almost 61,000.

"I think this is one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered to date", added James Collins, a bioengineer on the team at MIT. Of note, the only bacteria the drug was not effective on was Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a difficult-to-treat lung pathogen.

In the lab, researchers found that E. coli was unable to develop any resistance to halicin after 30 days, compared to the 24 to 72 hours needed to defend against the antibiotic ciprofloxacin. This meant that this approach could help researchers screen molecules for their antibiotic potential without wasting resources on failures of lab tests with molecules that may not work.

Preliminary studies suggest that halicin kills bacteria by disrupting their ability to maintain an electrochemical gradient across their cell membranes.

The team will now focus on making the algorithm find antibiotics that are more selective in the bacteria they eradicate. "Mutations like that tend to be far more complex to acquire evolutionarily". Ultimately, the plan is to use this algorithm to design antibiotics from the bottom up. Well, the researchers themselves didn't develop it... they told a computer to do it for them, and it worked.

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