antibiotic research


Roundup: First New Class of Antibiotics in Decades; Smoking Linked to Brain Shrinkage; and More News

MIT Researchers Identify New Class of Antibiotics Using Type of Artificial Intelligence

Researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered new compounds -- essentially the first new class of antibiotics in several decades -- that can kill a drug-resistant bacterium responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in the U. S. every year.

In a study published in Nature, the researchers indicated that these compounds could kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) grown in a lab dish and in two mouse models of MRSA infection. "The compounds also show very low toxicity against human cells, making them particularly good drug candidates," MIT said in a statement.

A key innovation of the new study is that the researchers used a type of artificial intelligences (AI) known as “deep learning.” The compounds were identified using AI models that can learn to identify "chemical structures" that are associated with antimicrobial activity. "These models then sift through millions of other compounds, generating predictions of which ones may have strong antimicrobial activity," MIT stated.

“The insight here was that we could see what was being learned by the models to make their predictions that certain molecules would make for good antibiotics. Our work provides a framework that is time-efficient, resource-efficient, and mechanistically insightful, from a chemical-structure standpoint, in ways that we haven’t had to date,” said James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), in a statement.

MRSA, which infects more than 80,000 people in the U.S. every year, often causes skin infections or pneumonia. Severe cases can lead to sepsis, a potentially fatal bloodstream infection.

Over the past several years, Mr. Collins and his colleagues in MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health (Jameel Clinic) have begun using deep learning to try to find new antibiotics. Their work has yielded potential drugs against other drug-resistant bacteria.

Smoking can Cause Brain Shrinkage, But Quitting Could Stop Further Loss, New Study Finds

The many health hazards of smoking, the primary cause of lung cancer, are mounting as new research finds that smoking can shrink the brain.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis also found that quitting smoking prevents further loss of brain tissue. However, stopping smoking doesn’t restore the brain to its original size, they also concluded. The new study’s findings, published in Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science, help shed light on why smokers are at high risk of age-related cognitive decline and even Alzheimer’s disease.

“Up until recently, scientists have overlooked the effects of smoking on the brain, in part because we were focused on all the terrible effects of smoking on the lungs and the heart,” said senior author 
Laura J. Bierut, M.D., the Alumni Endowed Professor of Psychiatry, in a statement. “But as we’ve started looking at the brain more closely, it’s become apparent that smoking is also really bad for your brain.”

Scientists have previously known that smoking and shrinking brain volume are linked, but have yet to be clear on a cause. The role of genetics is another factor. Brain size and smoking behavior are heritable. About half of a person’s risk of smoking can be attributed to his or her genes, the study’s authors said.

For the study, data was analyzed from the UK Biobank, a publicly available biomedical database that contains genetic, health and behavioral information on half a million people, mostly of European descent. A subset of more than 40,000 UK Biobank participants underwent brain imaging, which can be used to determine brain volume. In total, the team analyzed de-identified data on brain volume, smoking history and genetic risk for smoking for 32,094 people, states a news release on the study.

Researchers calculated the number of smoking years for individuals who reported smoking one pack or 20 cigarettes daily. Their brain scans were compared to people who never smoked or smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes.

Those who smoked more experienced a higher level of brain shrinkage, the researchers found.

“You can’t undo the damage that has already been done, but you can avoid causing further damage,” explained the study’s first author, Yoonhoo Chang, a graduate student, in a statement. “Smoking is a modifiable risk factor. There’s one thing you can change to stop aging your brain and putting yourself at increased risk of dementia, and that’s to quit smoking.”

‘Light Physical Activity’ Could be Vital in Reversing Childhood Obesity, Says International Study

Too much sedentary time as a child through adolescence is directly linked to childhood obesity, which has become a worldwide epidemic and is poised to cause 500 million new cases of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or other diseases by 2030, researchers say. A new international study has found that just “light physical activity” may help reverse this troubling trend.

The results from this new study shows that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity – which is widely recommended by U.S. and global public health officials --  is too much of a challenge for young people and is much less effective than light physical activity in decreasing overall gain in fat. Examples of light physical activity are long walks, house chores, slow dancing, slow swimming, and slow bicycling.

The study - conducted in collaboration among the University of Exeter, University of Eastern Finland, University of Bristol, and University of Colorado, and published in Nature Communications – is “the largest and longest follow-up to objectively measure physical activity and fat mass,” states a news release on the findings.

Says Andrew Agbaje, M.D., of the University of Exeter, who led the study: “These new findings strongly emphasize that light physical activity may be an unsung hero in preventing fat mass obesity from early life. It is about time the world replaced the mantra of ‘an average of 60 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity’ with ‘at least 3 hours a day of light physical activity’. Light physical activity appears to be the antidote to the catastrophic effect of sedentary time in the young population.”

Researchers based their findings on the University of Bristol’s Children of the 90s data (also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children). The study included 6,059 children (53 percent female) aged 11 years, who were followed up until the age of 24. During the study, a waist-worn accelerometer measured sedentary time, light physical activity, and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity among participants at ages 11, 15, and 24 years.

According to the findings, each minute spent in light physical activity from childhood through young adulthood was associated with a 3.6-gram reduction in total body fat mass. “This implies that cumulative light physical activity decreased total body fat mass by 950 grams (2.1 pounds) to 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) during growth from childhood to young adulthood, (approximately 9.5 to 15 percent decrease in overall gain in fat mass during the 13-year observation period),” states the news release on the study.

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