TCD launches €10m project to treat ALS with data science and AIVish Gainon March 1, 2022 at 14:10 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic


A new €10m Irish project called Precision ALS is attempting to develop new and innovative treatments for patients with motor neurone disease by bringing together medical research, data science and artificial intelligence.

Launched today (1 March) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Precision ALS will build tools that will enable clinical trials of new treatments based on ‘precision medicine’, a new kind of treatment in which medicine is personalised for individual patients based on their genetics and lifestyle.

The project will be led by two Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centres, Adapt and FutureNeuro, and bring together clinical scientists, data scientists and AI experts to collaborate on data-driven prediction models for the neuromuscular disease’s progression which will help develop treatments.

Uncovering ALS ‘heterogeneity’

Prof Orla Hardiman, who is the director of Precision ALS and a professor of neurology at TCD, said that there is an “increasing recognition of the need for precision medicine” in developing drugs for ALS, which only affects humans.

ALS is also a heterogenous disease, she explained, which means that it has many different causes and patterns of progression, and “large numbers” are required to understand these differences.

“Using ‘big data’ analyses, Precision ALS will provide an in-depth understanding of the factors that drive heterogeneity, and in doing so will for the first time allow us to target new and innovative treatments to specific patient subgroups,” Hardiman said.

The research is supported by the Irish Government through an SFI investment of €5m, which will be matched by an additional €5m from industry partners.

Speaking at the launch, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, TD, said that Precision ALS combines “the best of our technologies, the best of our ideas, and the best of our medical research” to change the lives of patients living with the disease.

“It will develop tools that facilitate clinical trials based on precision-medicine and has the potential to produce benefits for other rare conditions and diseases, supporting job creation and reducing drug costs,” he added.

Europe-wide platform

TCD said that project will also provide an interactive platform for clinical research in ALS across Europe, which will use AI to analyse large amounts of data gathered at scale and in a timely and cost effective manner across multiple international sites.

Prof Vinny Wade, director of the SFI Adapt centre for AI-driven digital content technology, said that Precision ALS “brings together a perfect mix of data and technology research skills to trailblaze discoveries in tackling these devastating diseases”.

Wade believes that the centre’s experience in researching these datasets “for immediate interrogation using AI” will help identify contributing factors and help discover changes linked to ALS.

“Unlocking this data in an ethical way is the key to achieving the research mission and realising true ‘precision medicine’. This pioneering work will lead to transformational change for patients with a ripple effect that will positively impact society,” she said.

The Irish-based researchers will work in partnership with TRICALS, an independent consortium of leading ALS experts, patients and patient advocacy groups across Europe. Companies partnering with Precision ALS include Biogen, Novartis, Takeda, IQVIA, Roche and Accenture.

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