Medicine and technology can work together to produce amazing results. One of the most promising ‘marriages’ is that involving stem cell research and artificial intelligence (AI). Researchers are attempting to use AI to aid and augment stem cell technologies. How can machine learning play a role in restorative medicine?
Read on to learn how science and technology are coming together to do amazing things.
Looking at the Technology Behind Artificial Intelligence
While AI undoubtedly has many uses in stem cell regenerative medicine, let’s start by making sure you understand how artificial intelligence works.
For many, AI is part ‘computer’ and part ‘science fiction’. This is because our view of what AI can do comes from Hollywood movies about rogue cyborgs that try to take over the world.
In real life, AI is a branch of programming that seeks to teach computers how to “learn” in a similar way to humans. It’s sometimes called “machine learning”.
AI is used now in a number of different ways.
- Manipulating and moving objects
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are examples of AI technology. You may have these devices in your homes. They ‘learn’ your habits and preferences based on your past commands.
Google and Amazon.com also use algorithms to learn about customer behavior. This helps them deliver the best search results.
Artificial intelligence is also used in a number of different areas, including engineering, math, analytics, education, science, transportation systems, and manufacturing.
Plus, it can used within the field of medical research, including to augment regenerative medicine therapies.
Stem Cell Researchers + Artificial Intelligence
The human body is the most complex machine ever created. The cells are even more complex.
While researchers understand the basics of how cells function, the mysteries of how cells behave and how cells respond to different treatments remains…well…a mystery in most cases.
There are so many different cells – performing in so many different ways – that scientists have a hard time predicting how they will respond to treatments. There may be millions of scenarios and it would take years (if not several lifetimes) for humans to make all of those calculations.
Artificial intelligence can be used to teach machines (computers) to do the calculations at lightning-fast speeds.
It’s already used in a number of different areas, including detecting and managing chronic and acute diseases. One of those areas is stem cell regenerative medicine.
Here are three ways that AI is being used in stem cell research right now.
1. Artificial Intelligence, Stem Cells, and the Ability to Grow Organs
Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) created from adult stem cells can be used to grow human organs. These organs are then used to test drugs and other therapies in the treatment of a variety of diseases.
In other words, these organs act as ‘guinea pigs’ that can be tested without needing to harm animals or humans.
Researchers have been able to develop iPSCs into different cells. However, they have not yet managed to create three-dimensional, fully functional organs. This is because mapping the spatial patterns of cell growth and differentiation is extremely difficult—and often unsuccessful.
Machine learning is now being used to predict how stem cells can organize in response to different quantities, timing and types of stimuli. As this technology progresses, may researchers will be able to grow combinations of cells types into functional 3D organs.
Already, stem cell/AI research has already been used to generate liver tissue, muscle cells, and arteries.
Eventually, scientists may be able to create fully functional, thee-dimensional organs as well.
2. Artificial Intelligence, Stem Cell Regeneration, and Macular Degeneration
Macular Degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness. It affects over 10 million Americans. It’s caused by the deterioration of the retina in the back of the eye.
The macula allows you to focus your central vision. This helps with reading, driving, and recognizing colors and faces. With Macular Degeneration the center portion of your vision becomes blurred or wavy.
Right now Macular Degeneration is incurable.
However, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are attempting to use Artificial Intelligence to evaluate stem cell-derived patches of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) tissue.
As noted by one of the researchers, Peter Bajcsy, Ph.D., of NIST, “Multiple AI-methods and advanced hardware allowed us to analyze terabytes and terabytes of imaging data for each individual patient, and do it more accurately and much faster than in the past.”
This tissue could then be used as an implant to treat patients with age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
The machines perform quality control measures for different cell therapies. Potentially, they also conduct image analyses to look for the markers of RPE maturity and function.
3. Artificial Intelligence, Stem Cell Regeneration, and Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that affects over 44 million people around the world. It causes brain cells to die, leading to a decline in thinking, memory, behavior, and social skills. Eventually, it leads to death.
It is a particularly cruel disease that slowly steals memories and bodies. Right now, there is no cure, only therapies that seek to slow down or halt progression.
However, researchers in Australia are working to develop computer models that can identify brain changes in Alzheimer’s patients. Eventually, this will allow scientists to create new therapies to treat the disease.
These researchers are creating “mini-brains” using stem cells from Alzheimer’s patients and are attempting to study the functional aspects of the brain.
This will help determine how the disease affects memory and other cognitive abilities—especially when compared to normal brain function.
The Future of AI and Stem Cell Research
Clearly, science and technology are being brought together to create advanced, new therapies. These treatments may help researchers learn how cells respond to different therapies. One day this research may lead to treatments of macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, and other incurable diseases.
Do you have questions or thoughts about the power of combining stem cells and AI? Share them in the comments below.