Artificial Intelligence Meets Alzheimer’s Research
Researchers from the University of Arizona College of Medicine–Tucson and Harvard University are using artificial intelligence (AI) to uncover the root causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
They’re delving deep into the human brain, mapping the molecular changes that healthy neurons undergo as Alzheimer’s develops. Their work was recently published in Communications Biology.
Alzheimer’s: A Medical Mystery
Alzheimer’s disease is a mind-boggling medical problem. It’s a brain disease that causes memory loss, personality changes, and other irreversible symptoms.
There are drugs to manage the symptoms, but finding a cure has been elusive. One of the reasons is that we don’t fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s.
Rui Chang, an associate professor of neurology, said, “This is the first study showing that the AI and big data-driven approach could open the door to develop treatment for Alzheimer’s by targeting new pathways or combinations of pathways.”
The Power of AI in Understanding Alzheimer’s
Chang and his team used an AI algorithm to analyze tissue samples from over 2,000 Alzheimer’s patients’ brains.
They developed a computational network model of the human brain, showing how genes interact and change as Alzheimer’s develops.
Chang uses a watercourse analogy to explain the disease’s progression. The appearance of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, abnormal structures found in Alzheimer’s brains, are “downstream” events.
They’re the result of problems occurring “upstream” in the genetic pathways.
Targeting the Root Causes, Not the Symptoms
Drugs that aim to clear away plaques and tangles have failed in clinical trials. This suggests that these structures are not the cause of Alzheimer’s, but rather a consequence of earlier events.
Chang believes the best approach is to target the disease upstream. His team used AI to identify 19 neuron-specific genetic points that could be potential drug targets.
They found that 10 of these genes affected the production of plaques and tangles.
Speeding Up Drug Discovery with AI
After identifying the gene targets, the next step was to find drugs that could interact with these targets. Chang and his team used 3D computer models to see if any existing drugs could fit these targets.
“This is not studying one gene by one gene, it is 6,000 targets all at the same time, which will significantly accelerate drug development and discovery,” Chang said.
The team screened millions of compounds against these targets, narrowing down to about 3,000 potential drug candidates.
With the help of a grant from the National Institutes of Health, they’re already preparing for clinical trials on three of these compounds.
Chang is excited about the potential of AI in transforming Alzheimer’s research.
He said, “Starting from mathematics and data, I can design mathematical algorithms to lift up a massive amount of data all the way to clinical studies in patients.”
In conclusion, this innovative use of AI could revolutionize our understanding of Alzheimer’s and speed up the discovery of effective treatments.
If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about daytime napping strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and how to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Coconut oil could help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s.
The study was published in Communications Biology.
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