A researcher at the University of Nottingham has been awarded £1.6 million to look at how artificial intelligence (AI) could help us to tackle antibiotic resistance – one of the biggest health challenges of our time.
For the project funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Dr. Tania Dottorini, associate professor in bioinformatics at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at the University of Nottingham will co-lead a collaborative project team, including researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, North South University Bangladesh and the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), Bangladesh.
Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest public health challenges of our time and, in 2019, 1.27 million deaths were attributed to antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Klebsiella pneumoniae exemplifies the threat of multidrug-resistant infections sweeping the world. Klebsiella is a member of the so-called ESKAPE group of microorganisms to emphasize that they effectively “escape” the effects of antibiotics.
“We’re at a point in time when many of the antimicrobials that are currently used to treat infections are becoming resistant and therefore, ineffective,” Dr. Dottorini says. “To date, a large proportion of research to develop new antimicrobials still focuses only on a small fraction of targets for which most lead drug compounds have shown relatively short-term effectiveness.
“A better understanding of the complex genetic repertoire, molecular interaction networks, and pathways underlying resistance is key to broadening the possibility of discovering novel therapeutic targets. In this project, we will develop an AI approach to discover potentially druggable K. pneumoniae proteins and to identify lead drugs inhibiting the target by a deep learning approach fed with 3D modelling.”
Professor Jose Bengoechea, director of the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast and co-lead for the project, added: “This funding will allow us to revolutionize the way that new drugs are developed to tackle the global pandemic of antimicrobial resistant infections, and to identify new drugs against Klebsiella pneumoniae – one of the microbes singled out by the World Health Organisation as a global threat to human health.
“This is an exciting collaboration harnessing the world-class expertise in AI and machine learning at the University of Nottingham and Queen’s University Belfast on how these microbes counteract our body’s defences.”
Professor (Dr.) Tahmina Shirin, director of IEDCR, said: “AMR is a major public health concern in LMICs including Bangladesh. IEDCR is conducting nationwide surveillance program on AMR in Bangladesh since 2016 and very keen to go ahead with advanced research initiatives to address this issue.”
The research project will start this year and run for three years. It is expected that the results will be available in 2026 and will be made available to the public.