MIT Researchers Discover New Antibiotics Using Artificial Intelligence (AI)

December 21, 2023

In a groundbreaking development, MIT researchers harnessed the power of deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to identify a class of compounds capable of combating a drug-resistant bacterium responsible for over 10,000 annual deaths in the United States.

AI finds new antibiotics

Their findings, detailed in a recent publication in Nature, demonstrate the compounds' efficacy in eradicating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) -- an infection caused by a type of staph bacteria that's become resistant to antibiotics. Significantly, these compounds exhibit minimal toxicity towards human cells, positioning them as promising candidates for drug development.

An innovative aspect of the study lies in the researchers' ability to unravel the information utilized by the deep-learning model in predicting the antibiotic potency of these compounds. This newfound knowledge presents an opportunity for refining drug design, potentially leading to the development of even more effective antibiotics than those initially identified by the model.

James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering, highlighted the study's significance, stating, "The insight here was that we could see what was being learned by the models to make their predictions that certain molecules would make for good antibiotics. Our work provides a framework that is time-efficient, resource-efficient, and mechanistically insightful, from a chemical-structure standpoint, in ways that we haven’t had to date."

The lead authors of the study, Felix Wong and Erica Zheng, both associated with IMES and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, spearheaded this research as part of the Antibiotics-AI Project at MIT. Under the leadership of James Collins, this project aims to uncover new classes of antibiotics targeting seven types of deadly bacteria over a seven-year period. This groundbreaking work represents a significant stride in the quest for innovative solutions to combat drug-resistant bacterial infections.

MRSA infects more than 80,000 people in the United States every year.

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