Scientists use AI to create drug regime for rare form of brain cancer in children | Medical research
Scientists have successfully used artificial intelligence to create a new drug regimen for children with a deadly form of brain cancer that hasn’t seen an improvement in survival rates for more than half a century.
The breakthrough, revealed in the journal Cancer Discovery, will usher in an “exciting” new era in which AI can be used to invent and develop new treatments for all types of cancer, experts say.
“The use of AI promises to have a transformative effect on drug discovery,” said Prof. Kristian Helin, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, where a team of scientists, physicians and data analysts discovery made.
“In this study, the use of AI has identified a drug combination that shows promise as a future treatment for some children with incurable brain cancer. It’s exciting to think it could become one of the first examples of an AI-proposed treatment that benefits patients.”
Computer scientists and cancer specialists at the ICR and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust used AI to work out that combining the drug everolimus with another agent called vandetanib, diffused intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a rare and fast-growing type of brain tumor in children.
Currently, DIPG and other similar types of tumors are incredibly difficult to surgically remove in children because they are diffuse, meaning they do not have well-defined boundaries suitable for surgery.
But after analyzing data on existing drugs, the team found that everolimus could improve vandetanib’s ability to “sneak through” the blood-brain barrier and treat the cancer.
The combination has been shown to be effective in mice and has now been tested in children. Experts now hope to test it on a much larger group of children in large clinical trials.
The study found that combining the two drugs increased survival in mice by 14% compared to those given standard control treatment.
Both drugs in the study, which was funded by Brain Research UK, the DIPG Collaborative, Children with Cancer UK and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, among others, are already approved to treat other types of cancer.
“DIPG is a rare and aggressive childhood brain cancer and survival rates have not changed in the past 50 years, so we urgently need to find new treatments for this disease,” said Chris Jones, professor of biology of pediatric brain tumors at the ICR.
“Our study demonstrates how much AI can contribute to drug discovery for cancers such as DIPG, by proposing new treatment combinations that would not be apparent to humans.
“The AI system suggested using a combination of two existing drugs to treat some children with DIPG — one to target the ACVR1 mutation and the other to sneak the former beyond the blood-brain barrier. treatment extended survival when we tested it in a mouse model, and we’ve already started testing it in a small number of children.
“We still need a full clinical trial to assess whether the treatment could benefit children, but we’ve moved to this stage much faster than would ever have been possible without the help of AI.”
dr. Fernando Carceller, consultant in pediatric and adolescent neuro-oncology at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and leader of the pediatric and adolescent neuro-oncology and drug development team at the ICR, said the breakthrough was “encouraging” and emphasized the possibilities of “using artificial intelligence” to find “cures” for cancer.
The original idea for the research came from BenevolentAI – a company that has built an AI platform for drug discovery. Researchers at the ICR teamed up with those at BenevolentAI to use its platform to identify drugs that could be used to treat DIPG.
Prof Peter Richardson, vice president of pharmacology at BenevolentAI, said the initial results were “promising.”
He added: “AI-enhanced approaches are already proving their value in expanding the capabilities of researchers to find innovative new treatment approaches – whether by uncovering new therapies or repurposing existing ones – not just in DIPG, but also in other diseases in the future.”