Brain cancer is a devastating disease, and glioblastoma is one of its deadliest forms. Patients diagnosed with glioblastoma have a life expectancy of only eight months, on average, according to the National Brain Tumor Society. However, two ambitious high school students, Andrea Olsen from Oslo, Norway and Zachary Harpaz from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are looking to change that. The young researchers, along with a third participant, Christopher Ren from Shanghai, China, collaborated with the Hong Kong-based medical technology company, Insilico Medicine, to identify three new target genes associated with the disease.
Using Insilico’s artificial intelligence platform called PandaOmics, Olsen and Harpaz focused on discovering new gene targets to treat aging and cancer. The students found that cancer disproportionately affects older people, and the two diseases share common roots. Their research led them to the identification of three new target brain tumor genes: CNGA3, GLUD1, and SIRT1, which they published in the peer-reviewed biomedical academic journal Aging on April 26.
Harpaz stated that the discovery of a target driver that can be inhibited or turned on or off to stop cancer growth and cure the disease is a significant accomplishment compared to traditional chemotherapy, which attacks every fast-growing cell and is damaging to parts of the body other than the cancer. AI and other technologies are poised to transform many different areas of healthcare, including disease prediction, identification, target discovery, and new drug development.
Although the work was done with the help of AI, Zhavoronkov, the CEO of Insilico Medicine, acknowledged the contribution of human scientists, stating that “humans are the real brains behind machines.” He added that “there is a lot of fear and speculation about AI and robots replacing humans, but in reality, humans are harnessing the power of technology to perform specific tasks faster and more efficiently, as we always have made.”
The young researchers hope to build on their findings with continued research into new drugs to combat glioblastoma. This accomplishment showcases the potential of AI to transform healthcare by accelerating the pace of discovery, while also acknowledging the ongoing importance of human expertise in the process. The future of medicine is certainly bright with the collaboration of talented young researchers like Olsen and Harpaz, and innovative companies like Insilico Medicine.