Cleveland Clinic and IBM Researchers Publish Findings on Artificial Intelligence and Immunity

The study, published in Briefings in Bioinformatics, highlights how artificial intelligence can be designed to develop better immunotherapy treatments

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Researchers from Cleveland Clinic and IBM have published a strategy for identifying new targets for immunotherapy through artificial intelligence (AI). This is the first peer-reviewed publication from the two organizations’ Discovery Accelerator partnership, designed to advance research in healthcare and life sciences.

The team worked together to develop supervised and unsupervised AI to reveal the molecular characteristics of peptide antigens, small pieces of protein molecules immune cells use to recognize threats. Project members came from diverse groups led by Cleveland Clinic’s Timothy Chan, M.D., Ph.D., as well as IBM’s Jeff Weber, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, and Wendy Cornell, Ph.D., Manager and Strategy Lead for Healthcare and Life Sciences Accelerated Discovery .

Timothy Chan, M.D., Ph.D.

“In the past, all our data on cancer antigen targets came from trial and error,” says Dr. Chan, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Immunotherapy and Precision Immuno-Oncology and Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Endowed Chair in Immunotherapy and Precision Immuno-Oncology. “Partnering with IBM allows us to push the boundaries of artificial intelligence and health sciences research to change the way we develop and evaluate targets for cancer therapy.”

For decades, scientists have been researching how to better identify antigens and use them to attack cancer cells or cells infected with viruses. This task has proved challenging because antigen peptides interact with immune cells based on specific features on the surface of the cells, a process which is still not well understood. Research has been limited by the sheer number of variables that affect how immune systems recognize these targets. Identifying these variables is difficult and time intensive with regular computing, so current models are limited and at times inaccurate. 

Published in Briefings in Bioinformatics, the study found that AI models that account for changes in molecular shape over time can accurately depict how immune systems recognize a target antigen. Through these models, researchers could home in on what processes are critical to target with immunotherapy treatments such as vaccines and engineered immune cells.

Researchers can incorporate these insights into other AI models moving forward to identify more effective immunotherapy targets.

“These discoveries are an example of what makes this partnership successful – combining IBM’s cutting-edge computational resources with Cleveland Clinic’s medical expertise,” Dr. Weber says. “These findings resulted from a key collaboration between everyone from a world-class expert in cancer immunotherapy to our physics-based simulation and AI experts. Collaboration when combined with innovation has terrific potential.”

Cleveland Clinic and IBM launched their Discovery Accelerator partnership in 2021, which is focused on advancing the pace of biomedical research through the use of high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. The landmark partnership brings together Cleveland Clinic’s world-renowned expertise in healthcare and life sciences, with IBM’s next generation technologies to make scientific discovery faster. 

About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. Cleveland Clinic is consistently recognized in the U.S. and throughout the world for its expertise and care. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 77,000 employees worldwide are more than 5,658 salaried physicians and researchers, and 19,000 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,699-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 23 hospitals, more than 275 outpatient facilities, including locations in northeast Ohio; southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2022, there were 12.8 million outpatient encounters, 303,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 270,000 surgeries and procedures throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.

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