Scientists from Cambridge University in Britain has used the AI robot to conduct high-throughput screening which has found out that a common ingredient in toothpaste can interrupt malarial infections at two critical stages – in the liver and the blood.
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AI is an Artificially-Intelligent (AI) ‘robot scientist’ that was used to discover the potential of the toothpaste ingredient Triclosan as reported in the journal Scientific Reports.
It has been reported by World Health Organisation (WHO) that malaria which has its worst cases in parts of Africa kills about 500,000 people yearly. An increasing concern of the disease resistance to several medications has become a bane of medicine as some strains are becoming unresponsive to treatment increasingly.
Steve Oliver of Cambridge University’s biochemistry department, who co-led the work with Elizabeth Bilsland has highlighted the urgency in search for new medications that can tackle the malaria menace.
The spread of malaria is simple and far reaching; when mosquito stings a host, it introduce into the host’s system the malaria parasite which make their way straight to the liver where they stay to mature, then reproduce. After maturity, they move into the red blood cells where they further multiply to spread around the body resulting fever and malaria complications that could cause death if not properly treated.
Triclosan, the ingredient found in toothpaste, has been known by Scientists for a while to have the ability to halt malaria parasites’ growth at the blood stage of the infection by inhibiting the action of an enzyme known as Enoyl Reductase (ENR), which is involved in production of fatty acids.
Originally, Triclosan was added in toothpaste to helps prevent a build-up of plaque bacteria until its usefulness to halt malaria parasites’ growth was recently established.
In this latest work, however, Bilsland’s team found that Triclosan also inhibits an entirely different enzyme of the malaria parasite, called DHFR. DHFR is the malaria enzyme that defiles the antimalarial pyrimethamine, a drug to which malaria parasites are increasingly developing resistance to, particularly in Africa but the Cambridge team’s work has shown that Triclosan has the ability and capacity to target and act on this enzyme and neutralize it even in pyrimethamine-resistant parasites.
Elizabeth Bilsland, who co-led the work said, “The discovery by our robot colleague that Triclosan is effective against malaria targets offers hope that we may be able to use it to develop a new drug,”
“We know it is a safe compound, and its ability to target two points in the malaria parasite’s life cycle means the parasite will find it difficult to evolve resistance.”
The Artificial Intelligence robot scientist used to automate and speed up the drug discovery process in the study was nicknamed Eve. Eve was assigned to automatically develop and test hypotheses, to explain observations, run experiments using laboratory robotics, interpret the results, alter the hypotheses, and then repeat the cycle.