I want to share three exciting Dupuytren updates with you this Halloween.
The first update is the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in medical research. The term “Artificial Intelligence” is a little misleading. Today, AI is about computerized pattern-matching rather than thinking and consciousness, but it’s still amazing. The pumpkin pictures above are all AI-generated. I typed “Happy pumpkin with hands”, and Dall-e’s AI made them. I had to try a few times, but still, it’s impressively realistic. The program created these pictures by pattern-matching my text with its image database. Each hand and each pumpkin in each image is unique, and the program could generate a nearly infinite number of new variations.
These images are cute, but the more significant impact of AI will be in developing medicines for Dupuytren. Earlier this year, DeepMind’s AlphaFold AI analyzed the shapes of proteins and predicted about 200 million new protein shapes. This database could not have been made by hand or by trial and error. It’s a giant breakthrough in modeling how proteins work, how they snap together with other molecules like Lego pieces, and how drugs might modify their effects. If we can identify proteins that govern Dupuytren biology, AI like this could match their shapes to the shapes of known drugs and therapeutic molecules. This method is already in use with other diseases – finding new uses for existing medications without trial and error or having to create a new drug.
The second update is the Dupuytren Research Group’s blood biomarker discovery research. Our study has 14 Terabytes of gene-related data on a small group of people with and without Dupuytren. We plan to recruit researchers from around the world to study this data in the cloud through a PrecisionFDA competition https://precision.fda.gov/. This competition will make secure de-identified gene data available to vetted researchers. The competition prize will go to the research team that best identifies which (anonymous) participants have Dupuytren and which don’t – based only on de-identified gene data. This competition will engage researchers from different backgrounds to work on this data, including researchers studying other fibrotic diseases. The more researchers, the more insights, and the faster we make progress. This competition should launch in early 2023.
At the same time, we’re also analyzing blood protein data from the same research participants. We have data from mass spectrometry and SomaLogic analysis of over 7000 blood proteins. We’ll soon also have data from Nordic Biosciences on how actively different collagen types are accumulating and being removed. It’s challenging. Protein profiles can reflect Dupuytren, but so can age, gender, and other factors. The plan is to complete this protein analysis and publish the results next year, followed by a publication of the PrecisionFDA gene findings. There will be more analysis of connections between gene and protein findings for more insights into new Dupuytren drug treatments. This work will pave the way to establish NIH funding for future Dupuytren research. Without government support, we’re still funded entirely by charitable donations.
The third update involves a trip to Boston this November. I’ll attend the Sixth Antifibrotic Drug Development Summit in Woburn, just outside Boston. This conference is for researchers developing new treatments for fibrotic diseases affecting the lungs, liver, kidneys, and other areas. There’s an overlap between these diseases and Dupuytren, so it’s an excellent opportunity to see the forefront of fibrotic research and to network with potential collaborators in other fields. I want to present Dupuytren Research Group’s findings at the next summit.
And… I’m staying an extra day in Woburn to give a free public presentation on Dupuytren disease and research for a cure. This presentation and the following discussion will be from 9:00 – 10:30 AM, Saturday, November 12, at the hotel hosting the AFDD Summit: Crowne Plaza Boston – Woburn, 15 Middlesex Canal Park Road, Woburn, MA 01801, 781-933-0491. Attendance is free, but you must register to attend at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dupuytren-disease-and-research-for-a-cure-tickets-455259572637. Please come if you can!
We’re making real progress, and I’m personally grateful for the generosity of each person who has made this work possible so far. Of course, we have more to go, but it’s a great start.
Happy Halloween, and thanks again for your support!
Charles Eaton MD