Artificial intelligence has found a cure for malaria in toothpaste

© Fotolia / Kateryna_KonПлазмодий in the erythrocyteArtificial intelligence has found a cure for malaria in toothpaste© Fotolia / Kateryna_Kon

Artificial intelligence system and connected to the robot made the first serious scientific discovery they were able to find a new antimalarial drug in regular toothpaste, according to a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

«Our colleague-the robot Eva revealed the secret of how triclosan inhibits the development of Plasmodium falciparum. It gives us hope that in the near future we will be able to create new drugs that can fight malaria resistant to the action of existing drugs. We know that triclosan is safe for humans, and that it affects the parasite in two different ways that interfere with the Plasmodium quickly become immune to its action,» says Elizabeth Bisland (Elizabeth Bilsland) from the University of Campinas (Brazil).

In recent years, the development of drugs and various biological molecules began to engage in physics and mathematics, using the latest achievements in the sphere of its science to build computer systems capable of conducting thousands of experiments simultaneously and automatically select those combinations of drugs and other substances that act on the microbes or the cells of the body the «right» way.

Now scientists are actively thinking about the implementation of various artificial intelligence and machine learning methods in the work of these programs that will allow robots to search for and to improve methods of fighting germs, cancer, or viruses. For example, scientists from MIPT and Russian-American medical startup Insilico Medicine was created two years ago, AI systems, able to develop cancer drugs.

Bilsland and her colleagues used a similar approach for the opening of the new medicines for malaria, trying to understand why as its causative agent, malaria Plasmodium, interacts with triclosan, an antibiotic from the usual «treatment» of toothpaste.

This antibiotic, as explained by biologists, inhibits the growth of bacteria, interfering with the work of one of the key enzymes that is responsible for the Assembly of fat molecules necessary for the normal operation of the cell walls of microbes.

Just over 10 years ago, scientists found that in some cases triclosan can kill malaria parasites, but the mechanism of its action have remained a mystery – deletion of a gene on which this antibiotic does not affect the activity of parasites and did not prevent them to spread throughout the body of animals. Moreover, all attempts to change the structure of triclosan to revitalize failed — new version of this substance has struggled with malaria no better than the original or even worse, that has forced biologists to abandon the idea.

Unusual behavior of the antibiotic were able to solve «eve» – an automated system of doing experiments, which was ruled by artificial intelligence. It helped scientists to create thousands of new yeast strains, whose DNA was transplanted one of the vital genes of Plasmodium, and to check how such a procedure affects the probability of survival of fungus after contact with triclosan.

As it turned out, triclosan inhibited the growth of malaria, interfering with the work of a completely different enzyme, DHFR, is responsible for the Assembly of molecules of some amino acids and parts of the future «building blocks» of DNA. This same enzyme has several other known drugs for malaria, but the triclosan in contrast, almost never interacts with the human version of DHFR and does not cause severe side effects.

Scientists hope that their discovery will allow to create new drugs to fight malaria in Africa and in Asia, where in recent years began to spread new strains of Plasmodium, almost completely invulnerable to the actions of a classic cure created in the early and mid-20th century.