AI and big data research projects receive $5M to understand Alzheimer's disease

The National Institute on Aging has awarded a total of $5 million for two projects that will use AI and big data to better understand Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Rong Xu, PhD, an assistant professor with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, heads both projects, which will use big data methods for a comprehensive look at a range of factors that might contribute to Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

“Our goal is to uncover more about the mechanism of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that involve memory loss and the breakdown of the neurological system,” Xu said in a statement

Leveraging big data, researchers can look at vast amounts of data from "seemingly unrelated sources" for information that could be helpful in the development of drugs or treatments, particularly for diseases and conditions with genetic or environmental and social influences. 

The first project will create AI and big data computational techniques to analyze millions of published research, FDA drug profiles and genomic data sets, with the hopes of developing a large-scale knowledge base related to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Any relevant findings will be ranked and prioritized.

The base will be used to understand the mechanisms of the disease and identify ways to develop new or reuse existing drugs to treat the disease. The methodology could potentially by used for other diseases beyond Alzheimer's, according to Xu.

The second project will focus on exploring new candidate genes related to neurodegeneration, and investigate larger genetic regions and biochemical pathways. 

"The team, working in collaboration with Shu G. Chen, PhD, with the School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology, will verify which genes and genetic regions to consider by testing their findings using C-elegans, a type of earthworm with neurological systems that are genetically similar to human systems," the announcement reads.

The project could help identify new genes and pathways for humans.