UMCG and MIcompany start cross-border collaboration in advanced DNA research

UMCG and MIcompany start cross-border collaboration in advanced DNA research

04 May 2020
Company Article

Latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques are becoming available to unravel asthma and allergy risks

Press Release UMCG June 20, 2019

The UMCG and MIcompany, an AI & data company from Amsterdam, are going to collaborate in the field of asthma and allergy research. The collaboration ensures that advanced AI techniques become available for application to the exponentially growing amount of data on the development of the DNA in the human body. This will lead to new scientific insights to better predict who will have a high risk of asthma and/or allergy. The collaboration is an initiative of Professor of Child Pulmonary Diseases Gerard Koppelman of the UMCG and founder Marnix Bügel PhD of MIcompany. The collaboration is entered into for a 4-year period.

Much is still unknown about the development of asthma and allergy

Despite recent major scientific results such as the identification of genes associated with asthma and the identification of environmental factors that can activate or deactivate certain genes, it is not yet possible to cure chronic lung diseases. Much is still unknown about the biomedical background of the development of allergy or asthma. That is why a new approach to research is needed to understand the causes of these allergic diseases.

Much is still unknown about the biomedical background of the development of allergy or asthma.

The exponentially growing amount of data on DNA offers opportunities and challenges

As a result of the continuous development of DNA sequencing techniques, the amount of data about the human genome is growing at a rapid pace. In the past decade the amount of data on this has even doubled every seven months (see Figure 1) and it is expected that DNA sequencing will continue to be one of the world’s largest data generators until 2025. (Stephens, Z. D., Lee, S.Y., Faghri, F., Campbell, R.H., Efron, M.J., et al., Big Data: Astronomical or Genomical?, PLoS Biology 13 (7), July 7, 2015) DNA sequencing provides an unprecedented length of data per person. (The physical length of the DNA of one human being (the genome) at one time is more than three hundred times the distance to the sun and back (source: Annunziato, A. (2008) DNA Packaging: Nucleosomes and Chromatin. Nature Education 1(1):26).) A level of detail that on the one hand offers the possibility to map DNA (genetics), DNA changes (epigenetics) and resulting genes (mRNA) in relation to diseases. The modelling of these different layers as a biomedical network is necessary to understand the development of a complex disease such as asthma and to subsequently be able to cure it. On the other hand, the level of detail of the data also offers many challenges, including the volume, the gaps in the data due to impurities in sequencing and - in contrast to the depth - a limited width of the data (read: a limited number of people with the same clinical picture).

...the level of detail of the data also offers many challenges.

Figure 1. The growth of DNA sequencing. (Stephens, Z. D., Lee, S.Y., Faghri, F., Campbell, R.H., Efron, M.J., et al., Big Data: Astronomical or Genomical?, PLoS Biology 13 (7), July 7, 2015)

In order to be able to make good use of this enormous amount of data for research - in view of the challenges outlined - the newest techniques in the field of AI are needed.

MIcompany has experience with the latest AI techniques

The GRIAC (Groningen Research Institute for Asthma and COPD) has unique DNA data from blood and nose cells of participants in the so-called PIAMA cohort study. (The PIAMA (Prevention and Incidence of Asthma and Mite Allergy) is a birth cohort study. The study was started in 1996 among 4,000 babies. Data is collected from this group on, among other things, the environment and the development of lung function.) In order to be able to make good use of this enormous amount of data for research - in view of the challenges outlined - the newest techniques in the field of AI are needed. MIcompany has extensive experience with these techniques in other sectors, such as telecom, banking, market surveillance and retail. For example, MIcompany teaches the analysis of complex networks from its office in Tel Aviv. And, it applies this theory to companies to predict customer behaviour from social networks ranging from purchasing behaviour to fraud.

From our mission, we believe it is important to have an essential contribution to society.

Koppelman and Bügel initiators for cross-border collaboration

Paediatric pulmonologist Gerard Koppelman and MIcompany founder Marnix Bügel (Figure 3) met for the first time at Koppelman’s lecture at the Amsterdam Circle of the Ubbo Emmius Fund. (The Ubbo Emmius Foundation, the Groningen University Foundation (UEF) was established in 1996 to increase mutual involvement between society and the university and to raise funds for research and education projects.) Together they recognized the opportunities for cross-border collaboration between GRIAC scientists and data analysts from the MIcompany business community. Koppelman: “Many groundbreaking innovations in science come from applying techniques from other fields. MIcompany has both the knowledge from another relevant specialist field and the quality in its team to cooperate with the top researchers at GRIAC.”

Bügel: “From our mission, we believe it is important to have an essential contribution to society. Based on this mission and the knowledge and skills of our team, we have selected DNA research as a specialist field in which we believe that MIcompany can add the greatest value to society. With Gerard Koppelman we have found someone who has made an effort to actually shape this unusual collaboration between business and science”. The collaboration has been entered into for a 4-year period. A joint research team has been set up for this collaboration (see Figure 2).

About chronic lung diseases

Chronic lung diseases such as asthma, most allergies and COPD are among the most common diseases in the world.( Masoli M, Fabian D, Holt S, Beasley R, Program GI for A (GINA). The global burden of asthma: executive summary of the GINA Dissemination Committee report Allergy. 2004; 59:476-78.) Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children, while allergies are the commonest to adults. Around 400,000 people die of asthma worldwide every year. Around 150 million Europeans suffer from a chronic allergic disease and this number is increasing exponentially. By 2025, 50% of all Europeans are expected to have a chronic allergic disease. (Tackling the Allergy Crisis in Europe, The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), 2015)

About GRIAC

GRIAC operates in the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and the overarching research theme Healthy Ageing. GRIAC has three goals: to prevent the disease from developing further by identifying risk factors; minimizing the effects of disease by optimizing diagnosis and treatment and improving the quality of life of patients. The ultimate goal is to develop treatments to cure these diseases.

Figure 2. Part of the joint research team with from left to right: I.A. (Ilya) Petoukhov (MIcompany, program manager), A.E.C. (Agnes) Lieftinck (MIcompany), Prof.Dr. V. (Victor) Guryev (GRIAC), Dr. J.M. (Judith) Vonk (GRIAC), M. (Merlijn) van Breugel, Prof. Dr. G.H. (Gerard) Koppelman (GRIAC), Dr. M.S. (Marnix) Bügel and Dr. C. (Chengjian) Xu (UMCG, program manager).

MIcompany worldwide develops AI solutions to improve the essential activities of companies and institutions with data.

About MIcompany

MIcompany is an AI & data company with offices in Amsterdam (head office) and Tel Aviv. MIcompany has 70 employees working for them who all have an exact background in econometrics, mathematics or computer science and were among the best in their studies. MIcompany worldwide develops AI solutions to improve the essential activities of companies and institutions with data. Companies for which MIcompany works include eBay, Nike, Booking.com, Lease Plan and Shufersal.

Figure 3. Collaboration initatiors Prof. Dr. G.H. (Gerard) Koppelman and Dr. M.S. (Marnix) Bügel.

For more information:

Joost Wessels, UMCG Press Officer T. +31 50 3614464, E: j.r.l.wessels@umcg.nl

Marnix Bügel, managing & founding partner MIcompany E. mbugel@micompany.nl

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