Earning over $175 million in research grants this past year, the University of Miami’s medical research programs are turning to artificial intelligence to transform the healthcare field.
According to The Centre of Economic Policy Research, implementing this technology could potentially lead to savings that range from $200 to $360 billion annually. These increased savings promise to improve labor efficiency and reduce healthcare spending, while elevating the quality of care received by patients.
AI works by emulating behaviors of human intelligence through specialized machine systems developed by computer science. Primarily employed for drug discovery and rediscovery, AI is especially useful in predicting chemical structures to help create or enhance existing medications for several diseases.
“Concerning the pandemic, the biggest use of AI and machine learning from my understanding is to tease out COVID’s biological secrets and identify the few molecules which has ended COVID among the millions and reduced the time to market drugs,” said Head of Innovation and Emerging Technology at GlaxoSmithkline, Subroto Mukherjee.
As mentioned by Mukherjee, the use of AI in the development of new medications and vaccines is contributing to more effective responses to several viruses, with its most important trial having played out during the global pandemic.
This same technology is being used by research students at UM to push the boundaries of what is possible in pharmacology.
“One of the overall issues in the field of pharmacology is the amount of time it takes and the robust pipeline only to realize a drug doesn’t work,” said Ph.D. student Joey Shulz, who is part of the molecular, cell and developmental biology graduate program. “I use AI to guide the chemist and biologist on which drugs are, or are not, likely to work in order to expedite drug discovery.”
According to Shulz, incorporating AI in the process of drug development can allow researchers to cut the timeline of what would conventionally be a 10-15 year process by several months.
Shulz is currently engaged in three ongoing projects focused on repurposing medication and leverages AI as a tool to design treatments that mitigate the effects of illnesses and enhance treatments that already exist.
The primary objective of Shulz’s current project, which involves researching treatments for HIV, is to improve the effectiveness of pre-existing antiviral therapies.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the most commonly used method to combat effects of this disease. Often, patients have a strict regimen involving several medications and must closely follow their doctor’s instruction to avoid developing drug-resistant strains of the virus.
Shulz’s research seeks to combat these mutations and develop more effective and resilient drugs for HIV treatment, especially with the help of AI.
This new technology aids in this process by utilizing predictive analysis of large datasets, including in areas such as patient history, clinical information and pre-existing drugs.
With the ability to make more informed decisions regarding the effectiveness of various treatments, predictive analysis allows for the creation of medications that are better tailored to individual patients.
“Metaphorically speaking, I am taking a key and seeing how well it fits into the lock,” said Shulz. “I can then use that lock to mimic the key, but instead it’s a brand new novel compound.”
Implementing predictive analysis in research with the help of AI, he is able to compare his work against an entire database, leveraging it as a resource to guide him in the creation of new drugs or repurposing existing drugs for his projects.
Predictive analysis can then recognize certain patterns or faults in the data that a student may not be able to see, making it much more effective for researchers in the production of new pharmaceuticals.
As AI continues to grow and evolve, technology will be able to then predict these diseases before they even appear, allowing the technology to occupy more significant roles in medicine in the future. Dedicated to the advancement of a proactive healthcare system powered by AI, Schulz and fellow medical students’ research at the University has the potential to elevate the quality of life for many by simplifying the treatment process.
“One thing I love about AI in what I do is that I have the opportunity to help so many people in need,” said Shulz.
As the UM’s Miller School of Medicine continues to harness the capabilities of artificial intelligence in medicine, students like Shulz are preparing to transform healthcare practices and innovate the process of drug discovery in a digitally-empowered world.