Did Anton the AI find a new treatment for a deadly cancer?

Did Anton the AI find a new treatment for a deadly cancer?

Researchers used a supercomputer to learn about the subtle movement of a cancer-causing molecule, and then they found the precise drug that can recognize that motion.

Matthew Monteith

Bile duct cancer is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that is often difficult to diagnose. Patients with advanced forms of the disease have an average life expectancy of less than two years.

Many patients who get cancer in their bile ducts – the tubes that carry digestive fluid from the liver to the small intestine – have mutations in the protein FGFR2, which leads cells to grow uncontrollably. One treatment option is chemotherapy, but it’s toxic to both cancer cells and healthy cells, failing to distinguish between the two. Increasingly, cancer researchers are focusing on biomarker directed therapy, or making drugs that target a particular molecule that causes the disease – FGFR2, in the case of bile duct cancer.

A problem is that in targeting FGFR2, these drugs inadvertently inhibit the FGFR1 protein, which looks almost identical. This causes elevated phosphate levels, which is a sign of kidney damage, so doses are often limited to prevent complications.

In recent years, though, a company called Relay has taken a unique approach to picking out FGFR2, using a powerful supercomputer to simulate how proteins move and change shape. The team, leveraging this AI capability, discovered that FGFR2 and FGFR1 move differently, which enabled them to create a more precise drug.

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Sarah Philip
Sarah Philip is a London-based freelance journalist who writes about science, film and TV. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahph1lip.
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Friday Five: The Therapeutic Value of Bonding with Fellow Sports Fans

In this week's Friday Five, attending sports events is linked to greater life satisfaction, AI can identify specific brain tumors in under 90 seconds, LSD - minus hallucinations - raises hopes for mental health, new research on the benefits of cold showers, and inspiring awe in your kids leads to behavior change.

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The Friday Five covers five stories in research that you may have missed this week. There are plenty of controversies and troubling ethical issues in science – and we get into many of them in our online magazine – but this news roundup focuses on new scientific theories and progress to give you a therapeutic dose of inspiration headed into the weekend.

This episode includes an interview with Dr. Helen Keyes, Head of the School of Psychology and Sports Science at Anglia Ruskin University.

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Matt Fuchs

Matt Fuchs is the editor-in-chief of Leaps.org and Making Sense of Science. He is also a contributing reporter to the Washington Post and has written for the New York Times, Time Magazine, WIRED and the Washington Post Magazine, among other outlets. Follow him @fuchswriter.

Scientists and dark sky advocates team up to flip the switch on light pollution

Residents of Fountain Hills, a small town near Phoenix, Arizona, fought against the night sky pollution to restore their Milky Way skies.

Rebecca Bloom Chapman

As a graduate student in observational astronomy at the University of Arizona during the 1970s, Diane Turnshek remembers the starry skies above the Kitt Peak National Observatory on the Tucson outskirts. Back then, she could observe faint objects like nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters on most nights.

When Turnshek moved to Pittsburgh in 1981, she found it almost impossible to see a clear night sky because the city’s countless lights created a bright dome of light called skyglow. Over the next two decades, Turnshek almost forgot what a dark sky looked like. She witnessed pristine dark skies in their full glory again during a visit to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah in early 2000s.

“I was shocked at how beautiful the dark skies were in the West. That is when I realized that most parts of the world have lost access to starry skies because of light pollution,” says Turnshek, an astronomer and lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2015, she became a dark sky advocate.

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Anuradha Varanasi
Anuradha Varanasi is a freelance science journalist based in Mumbai, India. She has an MA in Science Journalism from Columbia University in the City of New York. Her stories on environmental health, biomedical research, and climate change have been published in Forbes, UnDark, Popular Science, and Inverse. You can follow her on Twitter @AnuradhaVaranas