IBM and a research organization funding research into diabetes will work together to develop and apply machine learning methods to analyze extensive amounts of research into type 1 diabetes.

JDRF, which has long funded research activities into this form of the disease, plans to work together with IBM to cull research data and identify factors leading to the onset of type 1 diabetes in children.

Derek Rapp
Derek Rapp

This form of the disease currently does not have a cure, and it affects 1.25 million Americans.

The collaboration on research is expected to create an entry point for type 1 diabetes in the field of precision medicine, combining JDRF’s connections to research teams and its expertise in the disease, with the technical capability and computing power of IBM.

“JDRF supports researchers all over the world, but never before have we been able to analyze their data comprehensively in a way that can tell us why some children who are at risk get type 1 diabetes and others do not,” says Derek Rapp, president and CEO of the organization.

“IBM’s analysis of the existing data could open the door to understanding the risk factors of type 1 diabetes in a whole new way, and to one day finding a way to prevent it altogether,” he added.

While research has gathered volumes of data, it’s been difficult to make generalizations based on the data to understand it, says Jessica Dunne, director of discovery research for JDRF, in a blog on the organization’s web site. Research has revealed that type 1 diabetes develops differently in different people, she says.

“We know factors like a person’s age can influence disease course,” Dunne adds. “We also know that type 1 diabetes progresses through a series of defined stages, and we have supported multiple long-term studies tracking disease progression in different groups of people. This has yielded detailed timelines of disease course in tens of thousands of people, along with records on family history of type 1 diabetes, genetics, other medical history, environmental factors and diet.”

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To maximize the potential of all these factors, “We need to view the data holistically. Unfortunately, the data sets are independent, having been collected in different ways, at different times, in different locations and by different people.”

The organization recognized that it needed more computing power, making the collaboration with IBM a natural fit.

Dunne says JDRF and IBM scientists will analyze at least three previously collected data sets from global research and apply machine learning algorithms to find patterns and factors at play. “This large-scale data analysis will lead to deeper understanding of the risk factors and causes of type 1 diabetes and eventually finding a way to prevent it entirely.”

“Nearly 40,000 new cases of type 1 diabetes will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year. And each new patient creates new records and new data points that, if leveraged, could provide additional understanding of the disease,” says Jianying Hu, senior manager and program director for the Center for Computational Health at IBM Research. “The deep expertise our team has in artificial intelligence applied to healthcare data makes us uniquely positioned to help JDRF unlock the insights hidden in this massive data set and advance the field of precision medicine towards the prevention and management of diabetes.”

Future phases of the collaboration may consist of furthering the analysis of big data toward the goal of better understanding causes of type 1 diabetes. They may also consist of analyzing more complex datasets, such as microbiome and genomics or transcriptomics data.

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