Basic concepts of artificial neural network (ANN) modeling and its application in pharmaceutical research

J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2000 Jun;22(5):717-27. doi: 10.1016/s0731-7085(99)00272-1.


Artificial neural networks (ANNs) are biologically inspired computer programs designed to simulate the way in which the human brain processes information. ANNs gather their knowledge by detecting the patterns and relationships in data and learn (or are trained) through experience, not from programming. An ANN is formed from hundreds of single units, artificial neurons or processing elements (PE), connected with coefficients (weights), which constitute the neural structure and are organised in layers. The power of neural computations comes from connecting neurons in a network. Each PE has weighted inputs, transfer function and one output. The behavior of a neural network is determined by the transfer functions of its neurons, by the learning rule, and by the architecture itself. The weights are the adjustable parameters and, in that sense, a neural network is a parameterized system. The weighed sum of the inputs constitutes the activation of the neuron. The activation signal is passed through transfer function to produce a single output of the neuron. Transfer function introduces non-linearity to the network. During training, the inter-unit connections are optimized until the error in predictions is minimized and the network reaches the specified level of accuracy. Once the network is trained and tested it can be given new input information to predict the output. Many types of neural networks have been designed already and new ones are invented every week but all can be described by the transfer functions of their neurons, by the learning rule, and by the connection formula. ANN represents a promising modeling technique, especially for data sets having non-linear relationships which are frequently encountered in pharmaceutical processes. In terms of model specification, artificial neural networks require no knowledge of the data source but, since they often contain many weights that must be estimated, they require large training sets. In addition, ANNs can combine and incorporate both literature-based and experimental data to solve problems. The various applications of ANNs can be summarised into classification or pattern recognition, prediction and modeling. Supervised 'associating networks can be applied in pharmaceutical fields as an alternative to conventional response surface methodology. Unsupervised feature-extracting networks represent an alternative to principal component analysis. Non-adaptive unsupervised networks are able to reconstruct their patterns when presented with noisy samples and can be used for image recognition. The potential applications of ANN methodology in the pharmaceutical sciences range from interpretation of analytical data, drug and dosage form design through biopharmacy to clinical pharmacy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical*
  • Humans
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Research