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Groundbreaking: Hunter doctor using AI to create medicines


A Newcastle doctor is using AI to research new ways to help those suffering from bowel diseases. 

Dr Gerard Kaiko, of HMRI and the University of Newcastle (UoN), is exploring new therapies for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Ulcerative Colitis, simplifying large amounts of data through the use of Artificial Intelligence. 

He says his research aims to help patients beyond simply the suppression of inflammation. 

“My group has been researching intestinal stem cells and three-dimensional organoids in the gut, as well as the collection of millions of microbes in the gut, known as the microbiome,” Dr Kaiko explained.   

“The microbiome is intimately linked to health and is a part of normal human biology, but when it gets out of balance it can contribute to many diseases, including IBD.   

“The microbiome and intestinal stem cells are two key components that I believe are major drivers of IBD but are not targeted by current therapies, which simply suppress the patients’ immune system.   

“We are using neural networks, which is the category of AI model that forms the basis of ChatGPT and image recognition software to identify patterns in huge datasets so we can identify new therapies,” said Dr Kaiko.   

“AI can recognise patterns in enormous amounts of data that humans could never attempt, and previous computational models could not handle.”  

Dr Gerard Kaiko and Carly Bush.

Treatments targeting bowel disease beyond suppressing inflammation could be key to helping patients receive completely different and better outcomes.

Each of us has more than 20 trillion cells. If we took the DNA that makes up our genes from all of those cells and laid it out in a linear fashion, it could wrap around the earth 2.5 million times, or reach to the sun and back 300 times and the microbiome in our guts contain at least 100 times more genes.

All human beings are 99.9 percent identical in their genetic makeup, and it’s the 0.1 percent differences that hold important clues about the causes of diseases.  

This is the needle in the genetic haystack that AI can help us locate.  

“Not only can our AI model help us find the needle – it can tell us the needle’s trajectory through the haystack which helps us understand how the diseases formed, and the pathways we need to use to treat it,” adds Dr Kaiko.

“We are currently doing this with IBD but the system we have developed has potential application to many other diseases as well.”  

Dr Kaiko’s research is made possible by a $98,700 grant from Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation.

Executive officer, Carly Bush described the work as inspiring.

“With approximately 100,000 people in Australia currently living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, the research into new treatments is extremely pertinent,” she said.  

“IBD is so much more than just an upset stomach. This debilitating illness can truly upend a person’s life and can be fatal.  

“More broadly, some form of gut disease impacts about 1 in 5 Australians now, yet gut diseases have historically received less support and attention than they are probably due. This needs to change.  

“There is also a need for more Australian development of new technologies, including with AI.” 

The system HMRI has developed in this project is a shining example of ways to grow biotechnology with future healthcare and it’s happening right here in the Newcastle and Hunter regions.  

Dr Kaiko has already defined a potential “microbiome therapy” and together with his team he is undertaking work on turning this treatment into a viable therapy that could be taken as an oral pill.  

“We are now beginning to work with industry partners in Melbourne and Japan to address how we can expand this work in the drug development process towards clinical trials,” he said.  

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