"Robot scientist" promises to dig up new drugs

The EU-funded IQ Project has endowed a laboratory robot with innovative data mining and knowledge discovery techniques in a step towards automating the scientific process. The resulting "robot scientist" is the first computer system capable of originating its own experiments, physically performing them, interpreting the results and then repeating the cycle (see press release).

Endowing robots with advanced artificial intelligence and data mining techniques is of great interest in genomics, where data are being generated much faster than they can be effectively analyzed. Currently, when a new drug is sought pharmacological researchers conduct a blind study of tens or hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds to relate the structure of a chemical compound to its pharmacological activity.

Exhaustive testing like this is time-consuming, costly and generally has to be repeated each time a new drug is sought. The robot scientist holds great promise to significantly reduce the time and cost of new drug discovery.

A 2004 Nature article by the same group highlighted the concept behind the current prototype. The robot will now be put to work at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth to search for compounds that could be effective in treating malaria and schistosomiasis, so-called Third World diseases that are the focus of only limited research by commercial drug companies.

Source: ICT Results

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