The key to finding a treatment or cure can often be found by understanding the role our genes play in the progression of a disease. The team at the Hartree Centre have helped healthcare company GSK to take a big step forward in identifying connections between different genes and diseases. It’s the application of intense computing expertise to make a real difference to lives.
To support their R&D activities, GSK developed specialist software which creates “networks” to visualise the relationships between diseases, biological pathways and genes. This is done by analysing millions of biomedical research publications to identify correlations and the frequency at which they occur.
An ordinary computer monitor can also only show - and the human brain can only comprehend - a limited part of the network, restricting the view to small portions of data at a time. This means that potentially vital connections can be missed. They would only become apparent if researchers were able to see the bigger picture.
GSK brought their project to the Hartree Centre to test new data clustering and visualisation techniques. The Hartree team were able to focus the analysis by targeting a specific, currently incurable disease. They also explored several known drug targets with a potential for application to other diseases. The power of the Hartree Centre’s data analytics and visualisation facilities also allowed GSK to see the network in its entirety – something that had previously been impossible.
The ability to analyse the network as a whole by data objective methods, rather than in parts, has enabled GSK scientists to extract valuable insights and identify subtleties in the connections between the genes and biological pathways.
This breakthrough could eventually aid in the development of new treatments to target these different genes and pathways. Discovering new correlations will provide the case for future drug development work or improved treatments.
A follow on project is set expand on this approach. It will include new data types and begin to apply the techniques to other diseases – applying new data mining techniques to large open datasets. This has the potential to lead to new treatments for complex chronic conditions of many kinds.