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University of Arizona to use big data to seek Alzheimer’s insights

Researchers at the University of Arizona’s Center for Innovation in Brain Science will apply a big-data approach to enable researchers to better understand the systems biology of the disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

The hope is that using bioinformatics and computational modeling will help identify patient-specific therapeutic targets and assist in evaluating the effectiveness and safety of drug combinations being used to treat Alzheimer’s.

Rui Chang, the principal investigator of the project and an associate professor in the Department of Neurology, is conducting the study with a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The funds will enable Chang’s team to leverage big data in an attempt to close knowledge gaps about cognitive decline and healthy aging.

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During the next two years, the team will screen for small molecules and repurpose FDA-approved experimental drugs or drug combinations for Alzheimer’s disease. They will do this by employing big data to capture the complexity of neurodegenerative diseases driven by factors that include genetics, aging, gender, environment and disease stage, Chang says.

“We’re able to go from patients to the single-cell level and use predictive models to integrate data, thanks to this grant, which now allows us to identify and validate key therapeutics in a cell-type specific way across the spectrum of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases.”

The grant funds also enable the Chang team to consider a variety of genetic and environmental factors associated with health and disease, with further potential of the research to identify potential therapeutic targets required to diminish or prevent Alzheimer’s.

“Dr. Chang’s work is critical to our quest to cure Alzheimer’s disease,” says Roberta Diaz Brinton, director of the UArizona Health Sciences Center for Innovation in Brain Science. “His research is leading to a much deeper understanding of the complex biological networks involved in the disease, which ultimately will form the foundation of precision medicine to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s.”

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