DiversityNursing Blog

Artificially Intelligent Robot Scientist 'Eve' Could Boost Search For New Drugs

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Feb 04, 2015 @ 02:08 PM

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Eve, an artificially-intelligent 'robot scientist' could make drug discovery faster and much cheaper, say researchers writing in the Royal Society journal Interface. The team has demonstrated the success of the approach as Eve discovered that a compound shown to have anti-cancer properties might also be used in the fight against malaria.

Robot scientists are a natural extension of the trend of increased involvement of automation in science. They can automatically develop and test hypotheses to explain observations, run experiments using laboratory robotics, interpret the results to amend their hypotheses, and then repeat the cycle, automating high-throughput hypothesis-led research. Robot scientists are also well suited to recording scientific knowledge: as the experiments are conceived and executed automatically by computer, it is possible to completely capture and digitally curate all aspects of the scientific process.

In 2009, Adam, a robot scientist developed by researchers at the Universities of Aberystwyth and Cambridge, became the first machine to independently discover new scientific knowledge. The same team has now developed Eve, based at the University of Manchester, whose purpose is to speed up the drug discovery process and make it more economical. In the study published today, they describe how the robot can help identify promising new drug candidates for malaria and neglected tropical diseases such as African sleeping sickness and Chagas' disease.

"Neglected tropical diseases are a scourge of humanity, infecting hundreds of millions of people, and killing millions of people every year," says Professor Steve Oliver from the Cambridge Systems Biology Centre and the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. "We know what causes these diseases and that we can, in theory, attack the parasites that cause them using small molecule drugs. But the cost and speed of drug discovery and the economic return make them unattractive to the pharmaceutical industry.

"Eve exploits its artificial intelligence to learn from early successes in her screens and select compounds that have a high probability of being active against the chosen drug target. A smart screening system, based on genetically engineered yeast, is used. This allows Eve to exclude compounds that are toxic to cells and select those that block the action of the parasite protein while leaving any equivalent human protein unscathed. This reduces the costs, uncertainty, and time involved in drug screening, and has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide."

Eve is designed to automate early-stage drug design. First, she systematically tests each member from a large set of compounds in the standard brute-force way of conventional mass screening. The compounds are screened against assays (tests) designed to be automatically engineered, and can be generated much faster and more cheaply than the bespoke assays that are currently standard. This enables more types of assay to be applied, more efficient use of screening facilities to be made, and thereby increases the probability of a discovery within a given budget.

Eve's robotic system is capable of screening over 10,000 compounds per day. However, while simple to automate, mass screening is still relatively slow and wasteful of resources as every compound in the library is tested. It is also unintelligent, as it makes no use of what is learnt during screening.

To improve this process, Eve selects at random a subset of the library to find compounds that pass the first assay; any 'hits' are re-tested multiple times to reduce the probability of false positives. Taking this set of confirmed hits, Eve uses statistics and machine learning to predict new structures that might score better against the assays. Although she currently does not have the ability to synthesise such compounds, future versions of the robot could potentially incorporate this feature.

Professor Ross King, from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Manchester, says: "Every industry now benefits from automation and science is no exception. Bringing in machine learning to make this process intelligent -- rather than just a 'brute force' approach -- could greatly speed up scientific progress and potentially reap huge rewards."

To test the viability of the approach, the researchers developed assays targeting key molecules from parasites responsible for diseases such as malaria, Chagas' disease and schistosomiasis and tested against these a library of approximately 1,500 clinically approved compounds. Through this, Eve showed that a compound that has previously been investigated as an anti-cancer drug inhibits a key molecule known as DHFR in the malaria parasite. Drugs that inhibit this molecule are currently routinely used to protect against malaria, and are given to over a million children; however, the emergence of strains of parasites resistant to existing drugs means that the search for new drugs is becoming increasingly more urgent.

"Despite extensive efforts, no one has been able to find a new antimalarial that targets DHFR and is able to pass clinical trials," adds Professor King. "Eve's discovery could be even more significant than just demonstrating a new approach to drug discovery."

The research was supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council and the European Commission.

Source: www.sciencedaily.com

Topics: health, healthcare, cancer, patient, medicine, treatment, research, science, medical, malaria, infections, A.I, artificial intelligence, robot, scientist

Why more adults are getting "kids' diseases"

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Dec 17, 2014 @ 11:50 AM

By DENNIS THOMPSON

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Chickenpox befell Angelina Jolie this week, preventing the actress-turned-director from attending the premiere of her new film.

Meanwhile, an outbreak of mumps has hit the National Hockey League, sidelining more than a dozen players and two referees.

These are considered kids' diseases. Most adults have vivid, fretful childhood memories of standing in line to get vaccinations that they expected to provide lifetime protection.

Why, then, are these prominent adults -- and scores of others -- coming down with these infections?

Mainly, it comes down to two factors, experts say.

Vaccination rates have declined among children in some parts of the United States, increasing everyone's risk of exposure to virulent diseases like chickenpox, measles, mumps and whooping cough, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

"These vaccines are not perfect," said Glatt, who's also executive vice president of Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, N.Y. "If you don't have a perfect vaccine and you couple that with a less-than-ideal number of people getting it, then if one person gets it then it's more likely to spread to others."

On top of that, even adults who got their shots as kids are at risk of contracting these diseases once exposed to them, because the protection provided by childhood vaccinations can fade over time.

"You can be vaccinated for something and have antibodies that wane over time or disappear entirely," said Dr. Len Horovitz, an internist and lung specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "You can have intermittent immunity, or no immunity."

America's public health defense against infectious diseases is built on a concept called "herd immunity," Glatt explained. If enough people are vaccinated against diseases like chickenpox, influenza, mumps and whooping cough, then even those who aren't vaccinated benefit because those who are immune can't spread the disease.

Skepticism over the effectiveness and safety of vaccines has caused vaccine rates to decline in some parts of the country, Horovitz and Glatt said. In those locations, adults with waning or imperfect immunity could fall prey to childhood infectious diseases, particularly if there's an outbreak.

"There is less vaccination going on than there was previously," Glatt said. "These childhood diseases have not gone away, and there is a strong anti-vaccine lobby that plays a role in people's decision to have their children vaccinated."

Since the early 1980s, there has been an overall increasing trend of whooping cough in the United States, said Angela Jiles, a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 16 of this year, the CDC received reports of 17,325 cases of whooping cough, a 30 percent increase from the same time period in 2013 and the most cases seen in six decades, Jiles said.

California is experiencing its worst outbreak of whooping cough in seven decades.

There also have been more reported mumps cases in the United States this year, due to some larger outbreaks, according to the CDC. A reported 1,078 people have contracted mumps in 2014, compared with 438 the year before. In 2006 -- the worst year in recent history -- there were 6,584 cases of mumps, largely due to outbreaks on college campuses, according to the CDC.

No one has said how Jolie might have contracted chickenpox, but many of the NHL players appear to have gotten mumps from each other, despite efforts by the hockey league to get players vaccinated.

A single dose of mumps vaccine is about 80 percent effective, and two doses is about 90 percent effective, Amy Parker Fiebelkorn, an epidemiologist with the CDC's measles, mumps, rubella and polio team, told The New York Times.

"There is no vaccine that's 100 percent effective," Fiebelkorn said. "There is some margin for fully vaccinated individuals to still be infected with mumps if they're exposed to the virus."

Unfortunately, adults who contract these diseases are in for a rougher ride than children. They are more likely to develop serious complications, and are at higher risk of death, Glatt and Horovitz said.

These viruses also can increase a person's risk of future illness. For example, chickenpox patients like Jolie have a lifetime risk of shingles, a disease that can cause terrible rashes and intense nerve pain. The chickenpox virus hides in deep reservoirs inside the human body, and then emerges later in life to cause shingles.

Concerned adults can ask their doctor for a blood test that will check their antibodies and see if they remain immune to these infectious diseases, Horovitz said.

"It's something that could be done in the course of your annual exam. It takes no more than an extra tube or two of blood," the same as regular checks for blood sugar and cholesterol, he said. "It would be particularly important for people with chronic medical conditions or who do a lot of foreign travel where these diseases are running rampant."

People also can talk with their doctor about vaccinations that are recommended for adults. For example, the CDC recommends that adults get a booster shot every 10 years for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, as well as an annual flu shot.

Source: www.cbsnews.com

Topics: nurses, children, CDC, vaccine, hospitals, treatment, physicians, medical, diseases, measles, adults, mumps, shingles, chickenpox, whooping cough, vaccinations, infections, immunity

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