Can Artificial Intelligence reduce drug side effects? 

Can Artificial Intelligence reduce drug side effects? 
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Research led by the University of Exeter could mean that clinicians can assess drug side effects using Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

The University of Exeter with support from Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, assessed a new tool designed to calculate the likelihood of medications causing adverse anticholinergic effects on the body and brain. Common drug side effects can occur from prescription and over-the-counter medications, which affect the brain by blocking a key neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Many medications, such as some bladder medications and antidepressants, can have anticholinergic effects. 

The researchers published their findings in Age and Ageing. 

What are anticholinergic drug side effects? 

These drug side effects can include confusion, blurred vision, dizziness, falls, and a decline in brain function. The anticholinergic effects can increase the risk of falls and may be associated with an increase in mortality. Previous studies have also found that there could be a higher risk of dementia when used long-term. 

Developing a tool using AI

The researchers developed a tool that calculates drug side effects using AI. The online tool is named International Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden Tool (IACT) and employs natural language processing which is an AI methodology and chemical structure analysis to identify medications with anticholinergic effects. 

The drug side effect identification tool is the first to incorporate machine learning to develop an automatically updated tool available on a website portal. The likelihood of any anticholinergic drug side effects is assessed by assigning a score based on reported adverse events and aligning closely with the chemical structure of the drug. This makes the tool more accurate results, and the up-to-date system is a world-first feature. 

After further clinical research, the tool could help reduce prescription drug side effect risks. 

Professor Chris Fox at the University of Exeter, is one of the study authors. He said: “Use of medicines with anticholinergic effects can have significant harmful effects, for example falls and confusion which is avoidable, we urgently need to reduce the harmful side effects as this can leads to hospitalisation and death. This new tool provides a promising avenue towards a more tailored personalised medicine approach, of ensuring the right person gets a safe and effective treatment whilst avoiding unwanted anticholinergic effects.” 

The researchers surveyed 110 health professionals to establish if they would implement this tool to identify any possible drug side effects. They found that 85% would use the tool if it became available. 

Dr Saber Sami, at the University of East Anglia, said: “Our tool is the first to use innovative artificial intelligence technology in measures of anticholinergic burden – ultimately, once further research has been conducted the tool should support pharmacists and prescribing health professionals in finding the best treatment for patients.” 


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