Why Has Big Data Forgotten Autoimmune Diseases?


What are Autoimmune Diseases?

Over 50 million American’s suffer from autoimmune diseases, making it the third most common disease, after heart disease and cancer.  There are over 80 types of autoimmune disorders targeting women 75% of the time, as the graph above shows.

Autoimmune Diseases are the set of diseases that are caused by autoimmunity: when the body’s immune system mistakenly begins to fight its’ own healthy cells.  It includes conditions that affect almost every organ: the nervous system, endocrine system, gastrointestinal system, and the skin.

Turning Our Attention to Autoimmune Disease

In this era of Big Data and complex analytics capabilities, what are researchers doing for autoimmune diseases?  In 2002 the Autoimmune Diseases Coordinating Committee was funded by the NIH to further decrease the impact of autoimmune diseases.  The research plan “sets forth an ambitious and comprehensive research agenda aimed at generating more accurate epidemiological profiles of autoimmune diseases; developing a greater understanding of the fundamental biologic principles underlying disease onset and progression; devising improved diagnostic tools; creating more effective interventions; and producing public and professional education and training programs.”

Despite efforts by the NIH, the study of autoimmune disease is not as prominent as cancer research, probably because of the multifactorial nature of autoimmune diseases.

Early Studies Hope to Understand Genomics

Belgian researchers An Goris and Adrian Liston researched and published on the “architecture” of autoimmune diseases, discussing everything from genetics to immunology and heritability in regards to autoimmune diseases.

Furthermore, Sage Bionetworks is using crowdsourcing and citizen science to find an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) based on genetics.  The Rheumatoid Arthritis Responder Challenge is calling teams to build the best genetic predictor to determine of whom anti-tumor necrosis factor drug (anti-TNF) will work.  Anti-TNF therapy is used to treat inflammatory conditions that include arthritis, Crohn’s colitis, and psoriasis. Stephen Friend commented on the challenge, “Once we get things going in RA treatment people who are suffering from autoimmune diseases are going to say ‘Excuse me, how come we aren’t doing that?”

Will the Rheumatoid Arthritis Challenge catalyze broader interest by the data community to examine autoimmune diseases?

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