Before I get into trouble with the people of the Basque region, please know that pinpointing your location within Spain is just recognizable for those unfamiliar with the country, region or your really good food.
Okay, on to the research. The University’s computer researchers, specifically the Intelligent Systems Team (working with the use and application of algorithms), are working with BioDonostia to find the genetic markers for Multiple Sclerosis.
Finding the genetic markers would give researchers the ability to find a cure for MS and also, possibly, a host of other autoimmune diseases. Finding a cure does not sit too well with companies who make millions (or as Mr. Termeer of Genzyme has postulated, billions) from just maintaining the disease.
Algorithms can even help to better understand certain diseases, as well as to find biomarkers related to their diagnosis and prognosis. This is one of the key functions of bioinformatics. In fact, four members of the Intelligent Systems Team (José Antonio Lozano, who is the director of the team, and Borja Calvo, Iñaki Inza and Rubén Armañanzas, the latter currently at the Polytechnic University of Madrid), are working closely with researchers from Biodonostia, the first health research body within the Autonomous Community of the Basque
Who or what is BioDonostia?
The BioDonostia Institute was founded in December 2008 by the Osakidetza’s (Basque Public Health System) Management Board and the Basque Foundation for Health Innovation and Research (BIOEF), Board of Trustees, focusing on fostering biomedical research. Its headquarters are in the Donostia Hospital, located on the Paseo Dr. Beguiristain in Donostia-San Sebastian.
Based on the tools developed by the Bioinformatics engineers at the University of the Country of Basque, BioDonostia is using the tools for medical research. It’s a cooperative research system where the objective isn’t a higher stock price, but actually working out a solution to our most basic human problems.
They have worked together on studies linked to Parkinson’s, frontotemporal dementia and muscular dystrophy. Nevertheless, as Mr Inza explained, “at present the most visible fruit of our work is with multiple sclerosis. We have published an article in an international journal (in the US Public Library of Science, PLoS ONE, in 2009) and there is a patent pending between Osakidetza (the Basque National Health Service) and the UPV/EHU”.
Mr Inza stated that “whoever finds the biomarkers for multiple sclerosis will receive a Nobel Prize”, to underline the difficulty of the challenge. But at least they believe that are taking steps in the right direction. In the words of Mr Borja Calvo, the Biodonostia researchers suspect that some of the molecules known as micro RNA could be linked to multiple sclerosis, or act as biomarkers, which is why they have taken samples and analysed their levels of expression. This was when bioinformatics came into play: “They generated these data, they passed them on to us and we aimed to construct a classificatory model which, introducing levels of expression into it, was able to predict if there was a disease or not, or the state thereof”. The results were quite good: “The models predicted the disease quite well and, on this basis, a series of validation phases has been initiated”.
I just wanted to highlight the fact that this research is taking place–but not in this country where we have a lot of money being thrown at Multiple Sclerosis: a lot of fundraisers, a lot of 501(c)(3)’s raising millions to fund research but also to fund salaries, rent on high priced real estate, brochures touting their work, and the other expenses with running a high profile foundation.
See the Susan G. Komen Foundation and their work blocking the Patients Bill of Rights in 1999, 2000 and 2001, which certainly runs counter to their work to help women suffering from breast cancer, as a prime example of high profile foundations working for themselves and not for their original charity-driven mission.
Could it be that money isn’t given to fund research to find a cure when so money is to be made from not finding a cure?
My understanding of finding the genetic marker for any disease would be, as Mr. Inza puts it above, worthy of a Nobel Prize. The rest of the article is here, and I urge you to read it. It is incredibly interesting, especially for you nerdy people out there like me, how these researchers are converting the genes into numbers and then using a DNA chip (which fits in your hand) to store the information. Your genome on a chip!
Now research that used to take decades on a single gene can be sorted out much more quickly. With the use of the chip, a researcher can begin to look at the genetic make-up of someone with Multiple Sclerosis and compare that DNA with someone without the disease and see where the genetic differences may lie. We hope they succeed quickly.
“When the DNA from a sample of a person’s body is inserted behind the chip, each gene goes to its allotted slot, as it were”, stated Mr Inza. Then images of colours, partitioned into these slots, are obtained. These colours represent “levels of intensity and are proportional to the level of expression of each one of these genes. These are translated into numbers”. José Antonio Lozano adds, “The numbers express a level of fluorescence, the intensity of the signal.” With these numbers, computer models enter the scene.