Eve, in action (via University of Cambridge)
When many think about artificial intelligence, images of military drones and faceless soldiers often come to mind. The University of Manchester, however, is seeking to change that with its robot Eve, an AI robot that recently discovered a compound that can be used to fight malaria.
Eve isn’t the first of her kind. In fact, she came after Adam (need we explain?). Adam was an AI robot created by the Universities of Cambridge and Aberystwyth to automate the scientific process, including the development of hypotheses. Adam needed a mate, however, and Eve was built to aid researchers in the discovery of compounds that could fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Neglected Tropical Diseases include dengue fever, Chagas disease and leprosy/Hansen’s disease. These parasitic and bacterial-based diseases kill at least half a million people each year, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Manchester scientists also decided to use Eve to search for a possible cure for malaria, which affected at least 219 million people and killed over 660,000 in 2010, according to the CDC. Malaria is difficult to fight because of its ability to resist drug treatments. With this, NTDs are neglected because the development of these vaccines is not cost effective for pharmaceutical companies, as the people who need the vaccine are largely impoverished. Manchester scientists had this in mind with the development of Eve.
Eve has the ability to screen 10,000 compounds per day and assess if any of them could be good candidates to fight a particular target disease. Using a genetically engineered yeast, Eve can determine if a particular compound is toxic or harmful to humans and screen them out. After determining which compounds are most likely to successfully fight off the target disease, it retests them to rule out false positives. And so the process goes until Eve finds a match, and she did.
In tests, Eve discovered that a compound currently being tested for cancer prevention is also a good malaria candidate, as it blocks the DHFR compound in malaria. While pharmaceutical companies already use the compound in preventative malaria vaccines, it is a huge success for Manchester scientists, as it validates Eve’s accuracy and paves the way for how helpful the technology could prove moving forward.
Eve was developed to speed up the early stages of drug development. As no one human could possibly screen 10,000 compounds daily, Eve works with scientists to make their jobs easier. The Robot Scientist can make pharmaceutical development more economical, bringing much-needed drugs to millions who need them worldwide.
The team that developed Eve is hoping to further advance the technology to include even more features, such as the ability to synthesize candidate compounds it finds. For now, Eve’s recent discovery proved just how useful artificial intelligence can be to the development of new and improved candidate drugs.
With diseases like malaria and other bacteria developing resistance to current drug treatment, such as antibiotics and anti-malarial drugs, there’s no time to waste in the development of drugs that can put an end to these deadly diseases, once and for all. Manchester scientists are hopeful that Eve will provide a path to faster, more efficient drug development, and we are too.
The European Commission and the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council supported the research and development of Eve.
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