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AI discovers new antibiotic that can kill deadly hospital superbug

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New antibiotic to kill deadly hospital superbug: According to the World Health Organization, this is a multidrug-resistant bacteria that poses a particular threat in hospitals, and among patients whose care requires devices such as ventilators and blood catheters.

Artificial intelligence has a plethora of use and one of the significant ways that it can serve humanity is by lending a helping hand in discovering treatments for various kinds of diseases. In a positive development, a group of scientists have discovered a new antibiotic that can kill a deadly superbug. How? With the use of AI. 

The scientists involved in the research are from McMaster University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as per a new study published Thursday in the science journal Nature Chemical Biology, reported Guardian. 

The superbug is Acinetobacter baumannii. According to the World Health Organization, this is a multidrug-resistant bacteria that poses a particular threat in hospitals, and among patients whose care requires devices such as ventilators and blood catheters.

The global health organisation has listed it under the most critical group and among priority pathogens listed for research and development of new antibiotics. WHO says that Acinetobacter can cause severe and often deadly infections such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia.

"These bacteria have built-in abilities to find new ways to resist treatment and can pass along genetic material that allows other bacteria to become drug-resistant as well," said WHO. 

Acinetobacter baumannii ways of transmission

Acinetobacter baumannii poses a significant risk to patients who have open surgery wounds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Acinetobacter, which is a group of bacteria (germs), are commonly found in the environment, like in soil and water. 

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CDC suggests that Acinetobacter baumannii can cause infections in the blood, urinary tract, and lungs (pneumonia), or in wounds in other parts of the body. It can also "colonize" or live in a patient without causing infections or symptoms, especially in respiratory secretions (sputum) or open wounds.

New antibacterial chemical discovered using AI

As per the Thursday study, scientists screened hundreds of antibacterial compounds using an AI system in an effort to identify new structural classes. Researchers discovered a brand-new antibacterial chemical they called abaucin as a result of the AI screening.

A graduate student from MacMaster University who worked on the research, Gary Liu said, "We had a whole bunch of data that was just telling us about which chemicals were able to kill a bunch of bacteria and which ones weren't. My job was to train this model, and all that this model was going to be doing is telling us essentially if new molecules will have antibacterial properties or not." 

"Then basically through that, we're able to just increase the efficiency of the drug discovery pipeline and … hone in all the molecules that we really want to care about," he added.

The AI model was then utilised to inspect 6,680 compounds which were not known earlier. The entire AI research took an hour and a half which resulted in producing 240 compounds. Later, these compounds were tested in a laboratory which finally revealed antibiotic abaucin, which was amoing the nine potential antibiotics discovered with the help of the AI model.   

New antibiotic treated infection 

The newly discovered molecule was then put to test against A baumannii in a wound infection model in mice. It was found out that the new molecule effectively suppressed the infection. "This work validates the benefits of machine learning in the search for new antibiotics" said Jonathan Stokes, an assistant professor at McMaster University's department of biomedicine and biochemistry who helped lead the study.

"Using AI, we can rapidly explore vast regions of chemical space, significantly increasing the chances of discovering fundamentally new antibacterial molecules," he said adding, "We know broad-spectrum antibiotics are suboptimal and that pathogens have the ability to evolve and adjust to every trick we throw at them … AI methods afford us the opportunity to vastly increase the rate at which we discover new antibiotics, and we can do it at a reduced cost. This is an important avenue of exploration for new antibiotic drugs." 

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Heena Sharma

Heena Sharma is a digital journalist who writes mostly on current geopolitical developments. @HeenaSharma0819

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