Researchers aim to identify potential new drugs for wide range of diseases using AI

A half dozen University of Connecticut (UConn) researchers are now working to identify potential new drugs to treat a wide range of diseases and conditions through a unique partnership that offers access to cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) technology and screening compounds at no cost.

The researchers have been using Atomwise's AI-powered in silico screening technology to develop therapeutic treatments for, among others, certain types of strokes, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and an infection that causes reproductive failure in pigs.

Through its Artificial Intelligence Molecular Screen (AIMS) Awards program, Atomwise, a biotech company, provides access to advanced screening technologies that will help expedite the research.

Three researchers have already reported some early successes from these collaborations.

For treatment of ischemic strokes, which occur when there is a reduction in blood flow to the brain, UConn Health's Rajkumar Verma is focusing on a protein that becomes over-activated during ischemic strokes. Verma discovered a few inhibitors of the protein that could help to provide neuroprotection after stroke.

"Treatment of stroke is one of the most important current and future public health issues, with an urgent need for novel therapies that can move rapidly into clinical trials," says Verma, assistant professor of neuroscience.

"I received an AIMS Award at exactly the right time," says Verma. "It helped me progress my project, and I am grateful to Atomwise for showing trust in my research. Atomwise's contribution is bringing my team's research one step closer to clinical trials."

Simon White, assistant professor of molecular and cell biology, is also seeing early success. White studies hand-foot-and-mouth disease and the virus that causes it. The disease typically infects children and infants, a small number of whom require hospitalization. With large recurrent outbreaks in Asia and no specific treatments for the disease, White looked to Atomwise to help accelerate his efforts to develop drug candidates that specifically target the virus.

"We're very hopeful these results will help get us closer to the first ever treatment for this condition," says White.

Young Tang, an animal science professor studying porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV), an infection that causes reproductive failure in pigs - a major problem for the agricultural industry around the world - has identified a molecule that may factor into a new treatment.

The molecule inhibits the binding of PRRSV to pig cells to prevent infection with moderate potency. Ultimately, Tang hopes to turn the discovery into an alternative treatment for PRRSV that would be more effective than anything currently available.

"We are thrilled that our faculty members have been able to take advantage of this program, which leverages cutting-edge technology from industry with innovative research from one of the nation's top universities," says Radenka Maric, vice president for research at UConn and UConn Health. "Access to Atomwise's unique technology will hopefully allow these projects to progress faster than would be possible, moving us closer to therapies to help patients and treat disease."

"Beyond the potential contribution these three early successes will make in the field of human and animal health, we continue to be amazed by the exceptional and diverse research at UConn," says Sara Omlid, PhD, partnering executive at Atomwise. "We hope to see more AIMS proposals from UConn researchers in the near future."

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