Opinion: AI alone won’t solve the problem of antibiotic resistance

Infections impervious to antibiotics have become modern medicine’s silent scourge, thanks to over-dosing and over-use of antibiotics globally. Even relatively common bacteria are now becoming resistant to long-standing antibiotic therapies. The use of artificial intelligence (AI), led by researchers at the MIT Jameel Clinic, has helped researchers discover new antibiotics that can fight common and deadly bacteria, yet to avoid the same mistakes, human responsibility will be required in their usage nonetheless.

Researchers believe that infections impervious to antibiotics will claim nearly 10 million lives annually by 2050. To meet the growing challenge of antimicrobial resistance, scientists including Regina Barzilay and Jim Collins of the MIT Jameel Clinic alongside colleagues from Harvard and McMaster University recently reported discovering a novel antibiotic using artificial intelligence. The new antibiotic, Abaucin, inhibits the growth of the bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii, one of the most resistant microbes in existence, often infects people in hospitals.

The issue of antibiotic over-use and antimicrobial resistance extends to the livestock industry. Some countries, like the United States, divert as much as 65% of their national antibiotic inventory to cattle, swine and poultry, as low doses of antimicrobials can enhance animals’ feed-to-weight ratio. Where animal antimicrobial consumption has increased, so has the isolation of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in humans, and vice versa.

In both areas, AI holds significant prospect of offering help. But only human intelligence, with proper policies and attitudinal shifts to govern the faithful use of antibiotics, can mitigate the collective negligence that has already caused over-us of existing antibiotics and their resistance to propagate.