GNS Healthcare, a data-analytics company, is working with nonprofit scientific research organization CHDI Foundation to craft a computer model to fight Huntington's disease.
GNS develops analytics technology that could match patients with effective treatments, according to the company. CHDI works with researchers in academic and industrial laboratories worldwide to explore how Huntington's disease works and discover treatments that slow its progression.
The collaboration between GNS and CHDI is intended to use big data analytics and next-generation sequencing to create predictive computer models of disease progression and drug response, Dr. Iya Khalil, executive vice president and co-founder of GNS, said in a statement. The two companies announced their agreement Aug. 14.
Huntington's is a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder with a lack of effective treatment. It's caused by a mutation in the so-called Huntington gene, in which a DNA sequence repeats abnormally. The disease is named after Dr. George Huntington, who first described the disease in 1872. This genetic disorder runs in families. American folk musician and social activist Woody Guthrie is perhaps the most famous victim of the disease.
"While the cause of Huntington's disease is known, there are currently no effective treatments for this devastating disorder," Dr. Keith Elliston, vice president of systems biology at CHDI, said in a statement.
"The Huntington's model that GNS is building will allow researchers to perform simulations that generate novel hypotheses to help drive this understanding," said Elliston.
About 30,000 people in the United States and at least 150,000 others have a 50 percent chance of developing Huntington's disease, according to GNS. Symptoms include cognitive decline, psychiatric problems and motor impairments.
The interventions needed to respond to the genetic alterations of Huntington's are not straightforward, Colin Hill, chairman and CEO of GNS, told eWEEK.
GNS will use its Reverse Engineering and Forward Simulation (REFS) scalable supercomputing platform to aid researchers seeking to discover new treatments for Huntington's. REFS enables researchers to create high-throughput simulations of data for medical research.
"GNS will apply its big data analytics platform to create a disease-specific computer model that will yield a powerful new resource to the Huntington's disease research community--with the ultimate aim of better outcomes for patients," said Khalil.
REFS performs reverse engineering to take genomic and phenotype data from "jigsaw puzzle pieces" and turns it into a computer model of a disease, Hill explained.
Although health care organizations struggle to manage the flood of information, big data is used in health care to develop personalized treatment for conditions based on genomic information.
"Big data allows us to go from a standard of care for an average patient to a data-driven individualized treatment algorithm based on a patient's characteristics," said Hill. "We see this as ultimately key in getting the right medical intervention, whether that's a drug, operation or medical device to the right patient at the right time, which is key to lowering costs and improving health outcomes," he said.
"There are drugs that already exist for various diseases that may have a very big impact on Huntington's disease, but it just may not have been discovered yet," said Hill. "So that's a good example of where our platform can end up creating a lot of value in a short period of time."
The data will be used to match drugs to patients in clinical trials, he said.
When the research is complete, GNS will transfer the REFS network model to CHDI and affiliated researchers for future study. The research with CHDI on Huntington's could be a model for finding treatment for other illnesses, according to Hill.
"We see it as a paradigm for making computer models of other diseases, including Parkinson's and various cancers," said Hill.
This article was originally published on 08-16-2012