AI algorithms find drugs that could combat ageing

Ageing hands

Three drugs that could help stave off the effects of ageing have been discovered using artificial intelligence (AI), a study by Edinburgh researchers suggests.

Findings suggest the drugs can safely remove defective cells – known as senescent cells – linked to conditions including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and declines in eyesight and mobility.

While previous studies have shown early promise, until now few chemicals that can safely eliminate senescent cells have been identified. These senolytic drugs are often highly toxic against normal, healthy cells in the body.

The researchers developed a machine learning model by training it to recognise the key features of chemicals with senolytic activity, using data from more than 2,500 chemical structures mined from previous studies.

They then used the models to screen more than 4,000 chemicals, identifying 21 potential drug candidates for experimental testing. Lab tests in human cells revealed that three of the chemicals – ginkgetin, periplocin and oleandrin – were able to remove senescent cells without damaging healthy cells.

All three are natural products found in traditional herbal medicines, the team says. Oleandrin was found to be more effective than the best-performing known senolytic drug of its kind.

“This work was borne out of intensive collaboration between data scientists, chemists and biologists,” said Dr Vanessa Smer-Barreto, Institute of Genetics and Cancer and School of Informatics. “Harnessing the strengths of this interdisciplinary mix, we were able to build robust models and save screening costs by using only published data for model training. I hope this work will open new opportunities to accelerate the application of this exciting technology.”

The study was supported by the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Spanish National Research Council. It also involved researchers from the University of Cantabria, Spain, and the Alan Turing Institute.

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