Artificial intelligence is being used to try to identify risk factors for type 1 diabetes as part of a new collaboration between computer giants IBM and charity JDRF.
The project will involve the international technology company analysing significant volumes of research data through machine learning, a technique where computers find hidden insights without being programmed where to look.
IBM will be applying this method to more than three data sets, comparing the research against other data. Autoantibodies of type 1 diabetes will be one of the aspects examined in a bid to look for common characteristics among all of the data. Autoantibodies are agents of the immune system which, in the case of type 1 diabetes, attack the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.
JDRF hopes this will lead them to learning more about which factors spark the development of type 1 diabetes and how to delay or prevent it.
The one-year project is between the American arm of the charity and IBM’s global headquarters in New York. Results are expected at the end of next year.
Jessica Dunne, director and program lead for JDRF’s Prevention Program, said she hoped the relationship could yield long-term results. She said: “The knowledge gained through the analysis could also be applied to help JDRF in its pursuit of a cure for people with T1D.
“Through previous staging work, we have been able to identify and stage individuals at risk for T1D. However, more precise methods to identify progression patterns, as well as pathways responsible for risk, are still needed. With IBM’s technology and analysis, we are opening up the possibility of developing personalized approaches for prevention and ultimately, curing T1D.”
Kenney Ng, IBM’s manager of health analytics research, added: “The Healthcare and Life Sciences team at IBM Research is focused on tackling some of the greatest health challenges we face today. With nearly 40,000 new cases diagnosed annually, and no current cure, type 1 diabetes is a major challenge for the doctors, clinicians and patients who interact with it every day.”
IBM has a history of diabetes research having carried out projects into diabetic retinopathy as well as type 2 diabetes.
Following this latest project, potential future collaborations between the two organisations could include examining further complex data such as microbiome and genomics.

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