Medical Care

Automated Process Paves the Way for Screening, Prevention, and Treatment

A breakthrough in machine learning has also brought about a “game changer” for the science of metabolomics, the study of substances involved in metabolism. A researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada contends that the discovery will hasten the development of diagnostic and predictive tests for Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and numerous other conditions, leading to improved prevention and treatment.

Computing science PhD graduate Siamak Ravanbakhsh published his research in May of 2015 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. According to a release from the university, the report describes an automated process that increases the speed and accuracy of producing a person’s metabolic profile from a sample of biofluid such as blood serum or cerebrospinal fluid using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometry. Such a profile can provide a functional read-out of the developmental, physiological or pathological state of a biological system. This ability to quickly and accurately measure the levels of various molecules in a single sample of biofluid marks a significant advance for simple, cost-effective, predictive medical screening.

The release quotes David Wishart, a professor of biological sciences and computing science who co-supervised the research, as saying, “The analogy is that we’ve been looking at the world through a keyhole and now we’re looking through a picture window.”

This software application, dubbed Bayesil, will accelerate the creation of libraries of metabolic profiles for different biofluids that can be used to develop preventive and diagnostic screening for various diseases — in some cases months or even years before a condition is detectable by current screening methods.

Wishart, who is also director of The Metabolomic Innovation Centre, and Russ Greiner, professor of computing sciences and co-supervisor of Ravanbakhsh’s research, will continue to develop Bayesil’s capabilities as a preventive and diagnostic tool.

An article on the university web site written by Scott Lingley notes that Bayesil is now available online for people who have results from NMR spectrometers to try out for free. Ravanbakhsh said the Bayesil website has already seen visits and feedback from users around the world, which should help speed the evolution of the tool.

Image credit: Bayesil web site.

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