When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, doctors and researchers rushed to find effective treatments. There was little time to spare. “Making new drugs takes forever,” says Caroline Uhler, a computational biologist in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “Really, the only expedient option is to repurpose existing drugs.”
Uhler’s team has now developed a machine learning-based approach to identify drugs already on the market that could potentially be repurposed to fight Covid-19, particularly in the elderly. The system accounts for changes in gene expression in lung cells caused by both the disease and aging. That combination could allow medical experts to more quickly seek drugs for clinical testing in elderly patients, who tend to experience more severe symptoms. The researchers pinpointed the protein RIPK1 as a promising target for Covid-19 drugs, and they identified three approved drugs that act on the expression of RIPK1.
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