In a major medical breakthrough, scientists have used artificial intelligence and successfully created a new drug regime for children with a type of deadly brain cancer, where survival rates have not improved for 50 years.
As per the experts, the breakthrough, revealed in the journal Cancer Discovery, is set to usher in an "exciting" new era where AI can be harnessed to invent and develop new treatments for all types of cancer.
The discovery was made by a team comprising scientists, doctors and data analysts.
According to Prof Kristian Helin, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, the use of AI promises to have a transformative effect on drug discovery.
In this study, the use of AI has identified a drug combination that appears to have promise as a future treatment for some children with incurable brain cancer.
Helin also added that findings could become one of the first examples of a treatment proposed by AI going on to benefit patients.
As per a report by Th Guardian, 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 called vandetanib could treat diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a rare and fast-growing type of brain tumour in children.
Currently, DIPG and other similar types of tumours are incredibly difficult to remove surgically from children because they are diffuse, which means they do not have well-defined borders suitable for operations.
But after crunching data on existing drugs, the team found everolimus could enhance vandetanib's capacity to "sneak" through the blood-brain barrier and treat cancer.
The combination has proved effective in mice and has now been tested in children. Experts now hope to test it on a much larger group of children in major clinical trials.
The research found that combining the two drugs extended survival in mice by 14% compared with those receiving a standard control treatment.
"DIPG is a rare and aggressive childhood brain cancer, and survival rates have not changed over the past 50 years so we desperately need to find new treatments for this disease," said Chris Jones, professor of paediatric brain tumour biology at the ICR.
As per Jones, the study demonstrates just how much AI can bring to drug discovery for cancers like DIPG, in proposing new treatment combinations that would not have been obvious to people.
"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 first past the blood-brain barrier. The treatment extended survival when we tested it in a mouse model, and we have already started testing it out in a small number of children.