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AI Discovers Drug That Could Slow Down Motor Neuron Disease

As News Editor of Silicon UK, Roland keeps a keen eye on the daily tech news coverage for the site, while also focusing on stories around cyber security, public sector IT, innovation, AI, and gadgets.

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BenevolentAI’s technology demonstrated the benefit if AI in healthcare

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been used to discover a drug that has yielded positive results in slowing down the onset of motor neuron disease. 

The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), part of the University of Sheffield, conducted research on a drug candidate proposed by AI technology created by British AI specialist BenevolentAI. 

The aim was to asses if the proposed drug can prevent the degradation of neurons and the onset of muscle wastage caused by motor neuron disease, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which is a a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle weakness, paralysis, and ultimately, respiratory failure resulting in death within two to five years post diagnosis. 

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Ociacia 2 robot headThe Institute found that BenevolantAI’s technology had identified a drug that has thus far shown that there are significant and reproducible indications in the research that the drug can prevent the death of motor neurons in the patient cell models. 

The drug also delayed the onset of the disease in the so-called ‘gold standard of model ALS’.  

While the drug served up by the AI has provided promising results in modelling, it has yet to be put into clinical trials; the next step for the Institute is to assess how suitable the drug is for potential clinical development. 

“This is an exciting development in our research for a treatment for ALS. BenevolentAI came to us with some newly identified compounds discovered by their technology – two of which were new to us in the field and, following this research, are now looking very promising.  Our plan now is to conduct further detailed testing and continue to quickly progress towards a potential treatment for ALS,” said the Institute’s Dr Richard Mead. 

From a technology perspective, the  positive results the Institute has discovered is a positive indicator that the role AI can play in the medical world. 

Researching chemical and drug compounds can be a demanding process involving masses of modelling, analysis and research, so having an intelligent system take care of that could not only free up time for medical and pharmaceutical professionals to carry out more valuable work, but also result in the discovery of new drugs at a faster pace. 

Despite some controversy, AI is already being put to work in the healthcare world, notably with Google’s DeepMind AI and the Royal Free NHS Trust

And with the continued development and optimisation of machine learning models, we can expect to see AI technology being put to use in growing numbers of sectors

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