January 13, 2017

Artificial Intelligence Takes on Cancer and Other Good News

By Chelsea Follett
Researchers at the Salk Institute, an independent non-profit organization, have successfully reversed signs of aging in mice by manipulating their genes. “Obviously, mice are not humans and we know it will be much more complex to rejuvenate a person,” said one of the scientists involved. “But this study shows that aging is a very dynamic and plastic process, and therefore will be more amenable to therapeutic interventions than what we previously thought.” They hope to test the technique on human subjects in about a decade.

Innovators at the company Hedgemon just published a study demonstrating the possibilities of a novel helmet design inspired by hedgehogs. “Hedgehog spines demonstrate impact absorption capabilities that confirm their role in the protection of hedgehogs during falls,” the researchers wrote. “This study demonstrates that in certain conditions, hedgehog spines can absorb as much, if not more, than industry standard impact-absorbing foam.” Designing a better helmet could help prevent fatal and damaging head injuries in people ranging from football players to bicyclists. 

A team of North Carolina scientists have created a synthetic version of a heart stem cell. They are comparable to natural stem cells in terms of their ability to promote cardiac muscle growth in patients suffering from heart problems, and even seem to reduce some of the risks associated with traditional stem cell therapies. The synthetic cells are also highly durable and able to withstand freezing and thawing, making them easier to preserve for longer periods of time than their natural counterparts. The same technique could also be used to create other kinds of stem cells.

An ultrafast imaging technique may have brought scientists a step closer to being able to produce fuel using photosynthesis just as plants do. By recording moving energy during photosynthesis, researchers at Imperial College London were able to determine the speed of crucial processes for the first time in history. “We can now see how nature has optimized the physics of converting light energy to fuel, and can probe this process using our new technique of ultrafast crystal measurements,” noted one author. The process of photosynthesis is able to turn light into energy within a matter of nanoseconds.

Producing a new cancer-fighting drug is an expensive and time-consuming process, but artificial intelligence may help to change that and accelerate the speed of medical innovation. Researchers for Insilico Medicine, Inc., presented a paper recently on using “generative adversarial autoencoders,” a type of artificial intelligence, to generate “new molecular fingerprints on demand” to be tested as medical drugs. Computers are able to process knowledge more accurately than humans in many areas, and so using artificial intelligence as a “drug discovery engine” could turn out promising new treatments significantly faster than the traditional pharmaceutical R&D process and even improve success rates in clinical trials.