€10m Irish project to focus on treating ALS with data science and AI

1 Mar 2022

Prof Orla Hardiman, director of Precision ALS, demonstrates a brain monitoring device to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD, Prof Vinny Wade, director of the Adapt Centre, and Prof David Henshall, director of FutureNeuro. Image: Paul Sharp

Precision ALS will bring together clinicians, data scientists and AI experts to find new ways to treat motor neurone disease.

A new €10m Irish project is looking 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 to enable clinical trials based on precision medicine, where treatments are personalised for individual patients.

The project will be led by two Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centres: the Adapt centre for AI-driven digital content technology and the FutureNeuro research centre for neurological diseases.

It will bring together clinical scientists, data scientists and AI experts to collaborate on data-driven prediction models for progression of the neuromuscular disease and data analysis that will help develop treatments.

Uncovering 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 motor neurone disease, or ALS, which only affects humans.

ALS is also a heterogeneous disease, she explained, which means that it has many different causes and patterns of progression, and a large amount of data is 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 project launch, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, said that Precision ALS will combine “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

The 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, 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 data sets “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,” he added.

The Ireland-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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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic