Better management and treatment of neurological diseases
Management and treatment of neurological diseases is one of the biggest challenges facing medicine today. EU-funded researchers are developing computational tools to improve understanding of how such diseases progress as a means to help treat patients.
© ipopba #208730889, source: fotolia.com, 2018
With around 5 million patients in the EU, annual socio-economic costs of Alzheimer's disease exceed EUR 200 billion, while other types of dementia combined have a similar cost. These figures will rise rapidly due to Europes ageing population. Although rare, with about two cases per million people a year (rising to five per million for the over 60s), prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, are devastating, with a life expectancy of under a year.
Multiple sclerosis affects more than 2 million people worldwide, around two-thirds of whom are female. Onset is often early, typically affecting patients from 20 to 35 years old. Prevalence is high in Europe, where up to 1 400 people per million are affected. Neurocognitive disorders affect 27 % of Europes population and 5 % of children suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and autism. Childhood and adult depression are increasing.
The EU-funded EuroPOND project is collecting data from a wide sample of neurological patients in order to develop advanced statistical and computational modelling tools. The tools create pictures showing how neurological diseases develop and vary among individuals.
By making it possible to identify groups of patients with similar characteristics, this approach supports formulation of new evidence-based treatments. It will also improve prognosis by better matching patients with treatments and care plans.
EuroPOND models strike a balance between imposed knowledge of disease features and patterns learned from data, says scientific manager and senior researcher Neil Oxtoby, of University College London, UK. The resulting models are both predictive of disease progression in individuals and informative in terms of revealing underlying biological patterns.
Daniel Alexander, EuroPOND coordinator, adds: In this way, our new models and algorithms enable us to stratify people into groups, and to design and assign treatments appropriately towards the goal of precision medicine as well as gaining new understanding of the disease landscape for future drug development and healthcare delivery.
EuroPOND tackles the inherent complexity of neurological disease, and overlap between such diseases in terms of symptoms and pathologies, by taking account of a variety of clinical and biomedical data. These cover aspects including risk factors, biomarkers indicating the presence of a condition, and neurological interactions.
Creation of a multidisciplinary, pan-European consortium has been vital for developing robust and consistent tools and computational models spanning a sufficiently wide range of conditions. This allows models for different diseases to be combined so as to provide an unprecedented view of broader disease classes and, ultimately, neurological disease as a whole.
The deeper understanding of neurological diseases generated by EuroPONDs results is helping to revolutionise research in the field. Aside from that, two key impacts are expected by the time the project ends in December 2019: more rapid and economical clinical trials, and faster diagnosis through computer-assisted evaluation of patients.
The next step is to create similar tools to bring our techniques to the pharmaceutical industry and aid future clinical trials, says Oxtoby. We are prototyping two software-based tools for computer-assisted evaluation of patients and more efficient clinical trials, built upon our methodological innovations. We are also working to include the computational modelling tools in cloud-based image-analysis systems that supply radiological assessments to clinicians, thereby providing a platform for widespread uptake.