AI Just Discovered An Incredible New Medicine

AI was used to discover a new type of medicine that can combat bacterial infections.

By Robert Scucci | Updated

Whenever we read a report about how difficult it is to implement AI into everyday processes, such as ordering from a drive-thru, there’s always another report shortly after that shows us how AI is doing amazing things in the field of medicine. One such BBC article explains how the use of AI could be critical in developing new antibiotics that would combat Acinetobacter baumannii, a species of bacteria that can infect wounds and cause pneumonia. Through the use of AI, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada have discovered that a powerful antibiotic called abaucin could potentially be used to combat the bacteria in question.

The problem that we currently face in regard to developing antibiotics is that bacteria is constantly evolving, and we’re always behind the curve in developing a drug that could treat bacterial infections effectively. With the use of AI, scientists are able to run tests that allow them to quickly narrow down what kind of substance is needed to produce a medicine that actually works in attacking these infections. This process of using AI to quickly analyze chemical compounds cuts out a significant amount of lead time, which allows researchers to actually start clinical trials in a timely manner.

In the case of Acinetobacter baumannii, researchers at McMaster University used AI to process a list of 6,680 compounds in an hour and a half to narrow it down to a workable shortlist of medicines that could work. There’s no knowing how long it would take to implement this kind of research manually without the aid of computers.

With AI technology on their side, researchers discovered that abaucin could potentially be used in a medicine that will aggressively (and specifically) attack A. baumannii. Most antibiotics that we know of do a sort of blanket attack on bacteria, and don’t zero in on a specific strain. This development is great news because as superbugs become more resistant to your typical antibiotic, we have hope that abaucin will be powerful enough to stop the problematic bacteria dead in their tracks.

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At this point in time, we are still a long way out from developing a medicine that would use aubacin to combat A. baumannii, but we’re now much further along than we would have been without AI. In other words, AI did a lot of the heavy lifting by crunching data, but now scientists will have to use that data to develop and perfect a medicine that’s safe for human consumption. Dr. Jonathan Stokes from McMaster University anticipates that it will take until 2030 before such a medicine can be prescribed.

Think of the use of AI in medicine as not a direct replacement for meticulous research but rather a form of supplementary research that allows doctors to get to the actual work they need to accomplish. The amount of man hours saved by being able to rapidly run tests and rule out what compounds don’t work frees up time for researchers to actually conduct tests on substances like aubacin that look promising.

We may still be several years out from getting McDonald’s to hold the pickles on your AI drive-thru order, but in the world of medicine, we’re seeing an exciting amount of progress today.