The first month of 2020 saw two near-magical developments in medical science – both using smart technology to directly treat patients. While a collaboration between British and Japanese researchers led to the invention of a drug by artificial intelligence (AI), scientists in China came up with a smart bandage that could actively treat a wound as the situation demands.
British start-up Exscientia and Japanese pharmaceutical firm Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma used AI technology to develop a drug molecule – named DSP-1181 – that can treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Algorithms scrutinized several potential compounds and examined them against an enormous database of parameters to identify the correct molecule. The process involves billions of decisions and usually requires around five years; however, AI developed the drug in just 12 months. With the first phase of trials scheduled to be run in Japan soon, this will be the world’s first drug invented by AI to undergo human trial.
BBC quoted Prof Andrew Hopkins, chief executive at Exscienta, hailing it as a “key milestone in drug discovery”. He explained that till now AI had been used in diagnosis and for analysing patient data, but this is the first instance of AI being directly used to create a new medicine.
More promising is the fact that this algorithm can be applied to any disease; hence, more drugs developed through AI are in the offing. Research on cancer and cardiovascular diseases are already under progress. The company expects to hold clinical trials for another drug molecule by end-2020. Prof Hopkins predicts that, in ten years, all new drugs will be created through AI.
The smart bandage developed by Chinese researchers is already working on mice – shortening healing time and guiding the course of treatment. The findings were published in the ACS Central Science journal. The innovation is disarmingly simple and colourful – just a green bandage applied to wounds like any regular bandage! But it turns yellow if there is any bacterial infection, and automatically releases a built-in antibiotic to treat the wound. However, the wonder doesn’t stop there. In case a drug-resistant bacterium is detected in the wound, the bandage turns red while releasing its antibiotic. This is a signal for doctors, who will then focus a light on the bandage to stimulate and release certain special molecules in the material. These provide additional strength to the antibiotic in killing or containing the spread of bacteria. Using such bandages can quicken treatment. As they act smart based on the situation, they reduce the time between diagnosis and treatment of an infection. Plus, alerting doctors to any possible drug-resistance can be lifesaving indeed, especially when antibiotic resistance is a looming crisis on the medical horizon.