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Canadian researchers use AI to find a possible treatment for bacteria superbug




Researchers have discovered a promising treatment for an antibiotic-resistant superbug — with the help of artificial intelligence.

Acinetobacter baumannii is a hospital-acquired pathogen that’s commonly found on surfaces in clinical settings. It can cause diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis.

According to the World Health Organization, A. baumannii is a critical threat to patients whose care requires devices such as ventilators, due in large part to its resistance against most antibiotics.


“It’s remarkably challenging [to tackle],” said Jonathan Stokes, an assistant professor at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ont., who led the research.

“When we go to search for new antibiotics, it necessitates that we start looking for chemicals, antibiotics that have brand new structures and brand new functions. You know, we have to develop a fundamentally new treatment,” he told The Current‘s Matt Galloway.

Usually, this involves testing hundreds of thousands of chemicals to see which ones work best against the disease. But Stokes says “that’s remarkably laborious and time-consuming and expensive.”

That’s why Stokes and the rest of the team, which included scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, turned to AI for assistance.

“Ideally, by leveraging these artificial intelligence algorithms, they can look at these chemicals much more rapidly,” he said. “And by looking at a broad array of chemicals very rapidly, they can help us prioritize which experiments to run in the laboratory.”

Stokes and his team published their findings in the journal Nature Chemical Biology on Thursday.

Training the model

Before the AI can find a chemical that could kill A. baumannii, Stokes and his team trained it by feeding it data on bacteria-killing chemicals and chemical structures “associated with the antibacterial activity that we want,” he said.

“We physically tested in the laboratory about 7,500 chemicals, looking at which ones inhibited the growth of Acinetobacter and which ones did not,” he said.

A 3D illustration shows the morphology of Acinetobacter baumannii, an antibiotic-resistant superbug that, thanks in part to McMaster University scientists and AI, might finally be treatable. (Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock)

Once the AI model was trained, the team could then show it new chemicals it had never seen before. It could then predict which of those chemicals it thought were antibacterial and which ones it thought weren’t.

Eventually, the AI discovered a new antibacterial compound they named abaucin. Further laboratory experiments found that it can treat A. baumannii-infected wounds in mice.

The next step, Stokes said, is to perfect the drug in the laboratory and then perform clinical trials.

This work highlights a promising lead in the fight against A. baumannii — and the role of AI technology in that cause.

“When we completed this project … I feel like we’re entering an era where AI approaches can meaningfully influence how we discover clinical medicine from the earliest stages of discovery,” Stokes said.

Large-scale experiments

For Stokes, AI promises to dramatically speed up scientific and medicinal research.

“Humans might not have to spend so much time and effort performing these large-scale experiments,” he said.


How AI could change the future of our health care

Often called the future of health care, artificial intelligence is already finding a place in Canadian hospitals. But AI is far from perfect and some worry about the costs that could come with it.

That promise resonates with other scientists, like Rahul Krishnan, an assistant professor in computational medicine at the University of Toronto.

“If it helps us get to discoveries even 10 per cent faster, that’s a huge win for society as a whole, because we can start making and discovering these drugs at a much faster scale,” he told Galloway.

My goal is to discover new antibiotics to save people’s lives. So if there are … powerful AI technological developments that help me achieve that goal, I am going to embrace them.-Jonathan Stokes

Krishnan, who studies the intersection of AI technology and health care, says the key idea for AI in medicine is to help clinicians make faster, safer decisions.

An AI could look at a patient’s medical records and use them “in conjunction with a predictive model to assist in clinical decision-making,” he said. For example, an AI could quickly predict whether a patient was likely to develop diabetes and then “have a clinician prescribe early interventions,” preventing more serious outcomes later on.

“From a public health standpoint, having the ability to have good predictive models deployed at scale might actually help individuals make better downstream decisions about their health,” he added.

Is AI data accurate, or ethical?

That’s not to say the introduction of AI wouldn’t have its challenges, though.

The growing popularity of AI in multiple fields has led to some warning it could lead to privacy and copyright violations and misinformation campaigns.

Executives, researchers and AI pioneers have warned that its unregulated use of AI could pose serious risks or even threats to humanity itself.

Krishnan says AI could be susceptible to biases that exist in the medical sphere, depending on the data used to train it.

“We know from a lot of studies that have been done over the decades that the health care system that we have in North America is incredibly, in some ways, unfair,” he said.

“Those inequities are often translated into the data that are then fed into these algorithms. And if not corrected for at the point of training, these biases get encoded into the algorithm and every subsequent output that they put out.”

There’s also a risk of the AI making things up, even if it’s trained on reliable data.

“It, in some sense, can often hallucinate, and this is one of the failure modes of large language models … and obviously, that is a huge concern in the context of health care,” Krishnan said.

A woman in a white lab coat and black gloves inspects a small container.
Denise Catacutan, graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry & Biomedical Science and co-author of the paper. (Matt Clarke/McMaster University)

Stokes believes AI technology is advanced enough that it can be implemented now. But he says there’s still a lack of data “across many disease areas” to train these models.

“These AI models are … data hungry. They need to see a lot of examples in order to make robust predictions,” he said.

“So I think the acquisition of data with which we can train these models needs to be at the forefront of all of our thought.”

Embracing AI in medicine

Krishnan sees a future where AI helps a clinician “automate away a lot of the simplistic cases,” freeing them up for more complex work.

“They can spend their cognitive effort and the cognitive cycles on the much more complex cases that demand their attention,” he said.

It’s this augmentation that leads to Stokes to believe that AI have a place in the laboratory and hospitals.

“My goal currently is to discover new antibiotics to save people’s lives,” he said.

“So if there are, you know, more robust, more powerful AI technological developments that help me achieve that goal, I am going to embrace them.”

Produced by Kate Cornick, Willow Smith and Magan Carty.



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The Key Role of Trustworthy Babysitters in Balancing Work and Family Life




Are you a busy parent in constant pursuit of the elusive work-life balance? We know firsthand how overwhelming and challenging it can be to juggle professional commitments while still having quality time with your children.

That’s why we’re here to discuss an essential ingredient that unlocks the secret to harmony: trustworthy babysitters.

What Characteristics Parents Should Look for When Choosing a Babysitter?

Parents should look for a few key characteristics when choosing a babysitter. A good babysitter should be patient, responsible, and reliable. They should also be comfortable with children and have prior experience caring for them.

Besides, the babysitter must be able to communicate effectively and follow directions well. The babysitter should be someone the parents can trust to care for their children in their absence.


Strategies for Parents to Establish Reasonable Anticipations

As a parent, finding babysitters you can trust to care for your children is vital. However, it is also important to establish reasonable expectations for your babysitters.

Some tips for establishing reasonable expectations for babysitters include:

  1. Set clear expectations: Sit down with your babysitter to discuss bedtime routines, dietary preferences, and any necessary medications.
  2. Allow flexibility: While clarity is vital, also provide room for your babysitter to use their judgment and feel comfortable in their role.
  3. Trust their expertise: Once expectations are set, trust your babysitter’s judgment as a professional caregiver to avoid undermining their authority and creating discomfort in their role.

Determining a Fair Payment Plan

Determine your babysitting budget, factoring in your income and family size, while researching local rates. Account for the babysitter’s experience and qualifications, giving preference to those recommended by trusted sources.

Engage in open negotiations with your chosen babysitter. This aims to find a mutually agreeable arrangement that accommodates both your budget and their needs.

Tips on Finding Trustworthy and Compassionate Caregivers

When seeking a caregiver for your child, to ensure you find the right fit:

  • Seek recommendations from trusted sources such as friends, family, and neighbours who may have suggestions for caregivers in your area.
  • Conduct online research to review feedback and check references to gauge candidates’ qualifications and experience.
  • Request references and contact details from the caregivers’ previous employers or families they have worked with.
  • Trust your instincts and ensure you feel at ease with the caregiver, ensuring they are someone you can entrust with your child’s well-being.


Being able to trust your babysitter means you can have peace of mind knowing your child is safe and cared for.

Spending some time researching online reviews or asking friends and family for recommendations will help you find the perfect fit so you can feel more at ease while juggling work commitments in today’s hectic world.

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Facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at Bethammi Nursing Home



THUNDER BAY — St. Joseph’s Care Group and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit have declared a facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak at Bethammi Nursing Home, part of the St. Joseph’s Heritage complex on Carrie Street near Red River Road.

The respiratory outbreak at the 112-bed facility was declared effective Sept. 15 but only announced publicly on Monday.

No details were provided with regard to the number of people affected to date.

Restrictions are now in place for admissions, transfers, discharges, social activities and visitation until further notice.




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Alberta COVID hospitalizations up 73% since July: health minister



Three weeks after the start of the school year, Alberta’s health minister provided an update on the spread of airborne viruses in the province.

Adriana LaGrange also said more information about flu and next-generation COVID-19 vaccines will soon be released.

“Now that we will be spending more time indoors, we need to make doubly sure we are following proper hygiene protocols like handwashing and staying home when sick,” LaGrange said. “It also means respecting those who choose to wear a mask.”


Global News previously reported that influenza vaccines will be available on Oct. 16 with the new Moderna vaccine formulated to target the XBB.1.5 variant likely to be available at around the same time. On Sept. 12, Health Canada approved the use of the Moderna vaccine.

“More information on immunizations against respiratory viruses including influenza and COVID-19 will be available shortly,” the health minister said.

LaGrange said there have been 28 cases of influenza and five lab-confirmed cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) since Aug. 28.

“This is consistent activity for this time of the year,” the health minister said in a statement.

The end of August or the beginning of September has typically marked the beginning of flu season for provincial health authorities.

LaGrange also provided an update on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the province.

From Aug. 28 to Sept. 8, there were a total 92 new hospitalizations and three ICU admissions, bringing the total to 417 in hospital and seven in ICU, a 73 per cent increase of COVID hospitalizations from the last reported info.

On July 24 – the last update to the province’s COVID data dashboard – there were only 242 in hospital.

“Sadly, five Albertans died during that period due to COVID-19,” LaGrange said.

LaGrange said the reporting dashboard is being refreshed to include RSV, influenza and COVID-19 data, work that was originally expected to be completed on Aug. 30. The latest data on the province’s influenza statistics dashboard is dated July 22.

“This work is currently underway and will be available in the coming weeks,” LaGrange said.

She said data for the dates between July 24 and Aug. 27 will be available when the new dashboard goes online.

Amid more hospitals continent-wide reinstating masking requirements in the face of increased hospitalizations, the health minister made no mention of any such moves for Alberta hospitals. Acute care COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta jumped from Sept. 5 to 12, with 146 per cent more healthcare workers and 55 per cent more patients testing positive for COVID.

LaGrange stressed the “collective responsibility” to prevent the spread of airborne viruses like COVID and influenza.

“As a mother and grandmother, I understand the anxiety that comes with sending your children back to school. I want to reassure you that Alberta’s government has the health and well-being of all young Albertans top of mind,” the health minister said.

–with files from Meghan Cobb, Global News



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