UBC researchers train computers to predict the next designer drugs

UBC researchers have trained computers to predict the next designer drugs before they are even on the market, technology that could save lives.

Law enforcement agencies are in a race to identify and regulate new versions of dangerous psychoactive drugs such as bath salts and synthetic opioids, even as clandestine chemists work to synthesize and distribute new molecules with the same psychoactive effects as classical drugs of abuse.

Identifying these so-called “legal highs” within seized pills or powders can take months, during which time thousands of people may have already used a new designer drug.

But new research is already helping law enforcement agencies around the world to cut identification time down from months to days, crucial in the race to identify and regulate new versions of dangerous psychoactive drugs.

“The vast majority of these designer drugs have never been tested in humans and are completely unregulated. They are a major public health concern to emergency departments across the world,” says UBC medical student Dr. Michael Skinnider, who completed the research as a doctoral student at UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories.

The study ‘A deep generative model enables automated structure elucidation of novel psychoactive substances’ was published in Nature Machine Intelligence.

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