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South Australia’s Flinders University has trained an AI to create vaccines from scratch. According to its human overseers, their efforts could soon replace ours.
This flu season has been a particularly storied one, as the news media has already elevated it to “killer” status. At the time of writing, it has ended the lives of 300 Australians, apparently twice as much as the 2018 flu vintage managed. Experts have gone so far to label the season “moderately bad”.
However, help is at hand via our old friend/new foe artificial intelligence, as it has apparently designed the first drug for people totally engineered by a machine.
According to Professor Nikolai Petrovsky of Flinders University, the AI was tasked to find its own vaccine using all the available compounds in the universe.
“We had to teach the AI program on a set of compounds that are known to activate the human immune system, and a set of compounds that don’t work. The job of the AI was then to work out for itself what distinguished a drug that worked from one that doesn’t,” he said.
The team then took the top suggestions the system came up and tested them on human blood cells to see if they’d work.
“This confirmed that (the AI) not only had the ability to identify good drugs but in fact had come up with better human immune drugs than currently exist,” Nikolai said.
It matters in the season of influenza, as Associate Professor Dimitar Sajkov believed the AI-engineered remedies could soon see a far better vaccine than the pithy 2019 flu shot.
“It is tremendous to see such a promising vaccine that we developed with the very first human trials being done at Flinders, progressing onto the world stage,” he said in a statement.
“So far in 2019, there have been over 96 thousand confirmed cases across Australia. The number in WA nearly doubled to 10 thousand, as did the number of deaths, there have been 57 deaths recorded in NSW, 44 in SA, and nearly 40 in Queensland.”
Petrovsky hopes this vaccine will prove to be more effective than the existing vaccines and will go on to complement or replace them as the standard seasonal flu shot.
“If this is the case then the same technology we are using for flu vaccines can be applied to improve or develop many other vaccines,” Professor Petrovsky added.