Scientists researching at Cambridge University, Aberystwyth University and the University of Manchester have revealed an amazing new technology, a robot that can conduct its own experiments and discover drugs to combat deadly diseases. This robot, named Eve, is capable for working for days, on multiple experiments, without needing any human oversight. The scientists believe it will greatly speed up research to find drugs to combat tropical diseases, such as malaria, which have a death toll in the millions each year.
Back in 2009, researchers at Cambridge and Aberystwyth developed Adam, a prototype robot scientist which could conduct experiments to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Adam was even capable of forming its own hypotheses based on knowledge it had acquired, and putting them to the test. However the team who developed Adam believe Eve is a huge improvement that will greatly speed up the drug screening process.
Mass screening of compounds to test their effectiveness against a particular disease is easy to automate. The main obstacles in the process is the very large amount of time and resources required to test hundreds of thousands of compounds to try to find a cure. However Eve is designed to get around these limitations and reduce the time and cost of drug screening.
Eve works in a brute force method in the early stages of the screening process, testing thousands of compounds. However once it discovers compounds that inhibit the disease in some way, the advanced artificial intelligence goes to work. Eve can use knowledge it learned from the early screening process to make predictions about which compounds are likely to be successful against the disease and which are unlikely. This predictive ability is what greatly speeds up the drug screening process.
To put Eve to the test they had it had it search for a compound to inhibit malaria. Through this screening process, Eve has discovered a candidate drug which appears to be successful in fighting the malaria parasite. While it will require more trials to completely ensure that the drug is effective against malaria, the scientists believe Eve is onto something. If Eve is successful in finding lifesaving drugs, this will demonstrate the usefulness of automating scientific research. It could soon spread beyond drug research into other fields.
How do you think this technology will affect the development of life saving drugs? Do you think similar robots will soon be used to research in other fields? Leave your comments below.