The flu vaccine isn’t perfect, but Australian scientists are trying to make it work better. Researchers at Flinders University in South Australia have developed a way to use artificial intelligence to create a “turbocharged” flu vaccine.
The computer program is called Smart Algorithms for Medical Discovery, or Sam for short, started trials in the US about a week ago, Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky said in an email.
Petrovsky told the ABC that Sam could be trained and then learn to create new drugs. The researchers had Sam experiment with existing drugs that were known to work and also those that had failed. A drug developed by Sam would work in tandem to make the existing flu vaccination more effective. In an email, Petrovsky said the AI approach could be used to design a flu vaccine that works independently but the AI would need existing data to train on.
“We essentially showed all of that to the AI program called Sam and then Sam came up with its own suggestion of what might be an effective adjuvant, which we then took and tested, and sure enough, it worked,” Petrovsky said of the process, according to the ABC report.
Petrovsky said his team still grapples with the way the flu virus is constantly mutating.
“I believe that only a properly trained AI will have the ability to explore these patterns and choices [in the mutations] so that it can then actually predict where the virus is likely to go next so we can then use this to get it to design a vaccine that predicts against future flu viruses rather than past ones, which would then solve the problem of strain mismatch such as we are seeing this year in Australia, hence the high rates of infection currently,” Petrovsky said.
Originally published July 3.Update, July 12: Adds comments from Professor Nikolai Petrovsky.
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