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AI solution to antibiotic resistance

MIT researchers have discovered a new antibiotic compound – using artificial intelligence – that destroys antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic resistance has been labelled ‘one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today’, by the World Health Organization. In Europe, North America and Australia, a 2018 paper by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated 2.4 million lives could be lost within 30 years if antibiotic resistance is not properly addressed.

“We’re facing a growing crisis around antibiotic resistance, and this situation is being generated by both an increasing number of pathogens becoming resistant to existing antibiotics, and an anemic pipeline in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries for new antibiotics,” said James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering.

In MIT lab tests of the new AI identified drug it killed some of the worst disease-causing bacteria, including those currently resistant to all antibiotics. The molecule pinpointed by AI, called halicin by researchers, a reference to the artificial intelligence system from 2001: A Space Odyssey, didn’t develop any resistance to E. coli over 30 days.

“We wanted to develop a platform that would allow us to harness the power of artificial intelligence to usher in a new age of antibiotic drug discovery,” added Collins.

The researchers now aim to develop the study further with a pharmaceutical company or nonprofit organisation to develop it for humans.

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Iain Robertson
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