NemaLife’s AI platform shortens ingredient pre-clinical discovery from years to weeks

By Claudia Adrien

- Last updated on GMT

NemaLife created new AI tools as a way of upending the years-long traditional research process for ingredients. It also incorporated the roundworm C. elegans in the discovery process. @ HeitiPaves/Getty Images
NemaLife created new AI tools as a way of upending the years-long traditional research process for ingredients. It also incorporated the roundworm C. elegans in the discovery process. @ HeitiPaves/Getty Images

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Texas-based NemaLife has launched two AI tools to help organizations quickly introduce new functional ingredients into the dietary supplement market.

According to the company’s founder and CEO, Siva Vanapalli, firms can now conduct pre-clinical trials of their bioactive ingredients in three weeks with both the Discovery Flywheel and Efficacy Matrix. These tools incorporate NemaLIfe’s patented AI-powered organism-on-chip platform, which approximately 30 companies currently use.

A 2023 Probiota Pioneer​ and start-up spinoff of Texas Tech University’s incubator, NemaLife created these instruments as a way of upending the years-long traditional research process, Vanapalli added.

“It could take about half a decade or more to even bring a single ingredient into human study [with traditional methods],” he said. “We are enormously simplifying and accelerating and decreasing the risk. It was really thinking about how to have a platform or technology which allows us to do identify health benefits in parallel.”

Using a worm to expedite discovery

The three-week discovery timeline is based on the lifespan of a roundworm, or specifically C. elegans​, which NemaLife uses within its previously developed organism-on-a-chip platform. C. elegans​ is a species that has been used by scientists for more than half a century. Not only does the worm grow quickly but its basic organ systems are like that of humans. These two factors are appealing to supplement companies seeking to conduct research on stress, cognition, the gut, metabolism, muscles and longevity, Vanapalli said.

The worm is then given an active ingredient and dose within the organism-on-a-chip platform, which can be replicated hundreds of times across multiple platform units. At different life stages of the worm, different health outcomes can be measured. 

When cognitive decline occurs naturally at eight days, researchers can examine the behavior of the organism to collect information on how active ingredients can improve brain health. As another example, if NemaLife scientists want to study longevity, they would administer a healthy aging ingredient at worm adulthood through the end of its lifespan.   

C. elegans​ does have its limits, however. The organism does not have eyes, a heart or bones so is not an ideal system to study health conditions effecting those organs, Vanapalli added.

Incorporating AI

The organism-on-a-chip becomes even more powerful when AI becomes a factor, Vanapalli said. The Discovery Flywheel uses a tech stack of AI models to track organ-level and whole-organism phenotypes. Put another way, the tool takes photos of C. elegans​ as it is given a particular ingredient or multiple ingredients, which are then interpreted by AI. NemaLife’s AI database generates 10 million images each month ​that it can comb through to autoscore the outcomes or the efficacy of the ingredients. The organization uses software company Nvidia’s graphics processing units (GPUs), which can process many pieces of data simultaneously to accelerate image processing.

In another scenario, a supplement company could approach NemaLife with a goal to test 50 ingredient conditions. NemaLife could stack its organism-on-a-chip model with the ingredients and doses and run the entire experiment over three or four weeks, Vanapalli said.

After the Flywheel completes its image assessment, the NemaLife Efficacy Matrix then reveals for that company which bioactives are positive, negative or neutral for one or more health benefits the Flywheel tests for.

“It's not like we are looking at only a single ingredient,” Vanapalli said. “We are looking at a hundred ingredients at the same time because each chamber is being examined at the same time. If you were to do the same tests in rodents, you're only looking a single slice.”

For Brian Peeters, managing member of Substrate, a company that specializes in biotics-based organisms, the NemaLife platform and the AI-driven Flywheel allowed his business to get actionable data about pro and postbiotics in a short period. 

“The efficacy results had tremendous commercial appeal, while also significantly reducing the financial risks associated with human trials,” Peeters said. “In my two decades of working in the functional ingredients space, I have not worked with an in vivo​ AI-augmented platform which can unlock new and meaningful functionality across multiple health targets as NemaLife can do.”  

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