WFIRM Combines Organoids, Artificial Intelligence to Study Viral Threats

June 27, 2022

Blue background with WFIRM and DTRA logos.

A $36 million award from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a part of the Department of Defense, will enable the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) to establish a research and development program to study the ways in which a virus will invade and infect humans.

An official launch event was held today, attended by DTRA scientists and representatives, WFIRM research team members, elected officials and others from community and business groups.

The program, which has been termed Pathogenesis and Toxicity Forecasting Using Multi-Organoid Systems, or PATMOS, uses WFIRM’s Body-on-a-Chip platform to investigate the biochemical changes that take place in viral infections. The platform consists of an advanced 3D model of human tissues or organs that provide a more realistic model than standard two dimensional cultures. Combining the biological data generated from Body-on-a-Chip with the computational power of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence should produce a powerful tool that will find relationships between infection and human biology that have not been identified.

The PATMOS program will infect the 3D organs, or organoids, with different viruses and analyze what happens throughout the course of an infection. Biochemical changes taking place at the molecular and cellular level will be tracked and the data fed into the Artificial Intelligence which will begin to learn the complicated interplay of these subtle changes.

“The Body-on-a-Chip is an ideal platform for probing the ways in which a virus can infect specific human organs and tissues,” said WFIRM Director Anthony Atala, MD. “This proof-of-concept research program provides a valuable tool for development of a predictive algorithm to more quickly react to any type of viral threat.”

Atala added that the research will lay the foundation for the development of medical countermeasures, biomarkers of infection, and diagnostics.

“This work will provide valuable information that could lead to the identification of new ways to combat viral threats, and provide a significant advantage to our service members,” said WFIRM researcher and team member Patrick McNutt, PhD. “In a human being, these subtle changes would occur days before the person begins to feel ill.”

Additional WFIRM team members include: Colin Bishop, Metin Gurcan, John Jackson, Alan Jacobson, Frank Marini, Sean Murphy, David Ornelles, Graca Almeida Porada, Chris Porada, Michael Seeds, Thomas Shupe, Shay Soker, and James Yoo. Technical support provided by Kelly Burkett, Linda Mason, and Lynn Stedman.

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