Treeway Summer Challenge 2015

A big data approach leads to undiscovered insights into ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)

This summer nine Master / PhD students from various disciplines travelled to New York, Boston, Portugal, Spain and The Netherlands with the goal to develop new insights into ALS in order to speed up the discovery of therapeutics. The students analyzed sponsored data to develop an ALS model, which can help improve our understanding of the disease. The joint results of the challenge can help contribute to finding a new drug for ALS

For over 65 years scientists have been working on ALS. However, due to the complexity of the disease we have yet to find a cure. Nine international students, with varying scientific backgrounds, joined the Treeway Summer Challenge 2015 to help contribute in finding a solution for ALS. By thinking out of the box, and with the help of different professionals from all over the world, their goals was to develop new insights into ALS in order to speed up discovery of therapeutics.

The Treeway Summer Challenge started in NYC where the students visited different companies/universities including, Columbia University and the NY Stock Exchange. In addition, the students had lectures about ALS, given by Jonathan Glass and Hiroshi Mitsumoto, and about modeling, given by Rik de Greef.

The students’ next destination was Boston. In Boston the students worked hard on the assignment and visited several companies including, Biogen, Patients Like Me, Massachusetts General Hospital, and ALSTDI, to learn more about ALS and modeling. The students did not only learn a lot about ALS and modeling but were also inspired by the different speakers to think out of the box. Of course the students also got some time to enjoy Boston. On top of exploring Boston the students went to a Boston Red Socks game and celebrated 4th of July at Boston Pops.

Before going to Portugal the students visited Cabimer in Seville. There they were shown the latest research in Neuroprotection and Immune-regulation for ALS together and Cabimer shared their expertise in research on ALS mouse models, followed by an extensive tour through the facilities in the lab. On top of that they received an expert tour through the beautiful city of Seville the next day.

Next the students were off to Portugal. On top of working on the assignment the students had weekly brainstorm sessions to come up with new and creative ideas. These brainstorm sessions really helped the students think out of the box. Work hard play hard is the saying and thus, on top of the planned activities, the students also got to spend some quality time in the pool and at the beach.

The Netherlands was the students’ final destination. In the Netherlands the students learned more about the drug development process by visiting companies such as, uniQure and ProQr. In addition the students had the opportunity to ask any ALS related questions to ALS specialist, Prof. Leonard van den Berg and ALS patients Robbert Jan Stuit and Jan Kramer. The last weeks of the challenge were spent on making the final presentation. On September 5th the students presented the results of the Treeway Summer Challenge at the Heineken Experience. As a final challenge the students jumped in the canals of Amsterdam to raise money for ALS research.



Mind Map
The students split up into three sub groups to work on different assignments. Group 1 developed a mind map to describe and link the different biological processes involved in ALS. The mind map is a useful tool to gather information about ALS, to identify new connections between biological processes involved in ALS, and to identify possible new drug targets. In the future, this could possibly lead to better therapeutics.

Population Model
Group 2 worked on developing a population model, using the PRO-ACT database, to describe a patient’s disease progression. The PRO-ACT database consists of more than eight million measurements from ALS patients, recorded during several clinical trials. The population model can help predict a patient’s disease progression based on different influencing factors such as, age and gender. In the future this model can provide patients with a more accurate prognosis and it can help to improve the design of clinical trials.

Physiology-based model
And last but not least group 3 tried to understand how a drug might work in an ALS patient. The group developed physiology-based models, which describe different processes in ALS patients. These models can support the drug development process by improving our understanding of how a drug will behave in the body of an ALS patient.

We make a difference!

After three months of travelling all over the world, doing extensive research, and meeting inspiring experts and great companies, the journey of the students has come to an end. We look back on 11 amazing weeks in which the students were able to generate promising results. Results, which can help us, further our mission to accelerate the discovery of therapeutics for ALS.

Jan Schlender one of the 8 students said “This unique challenge illustrated entrepreneurial spirit in the pharmaceutical world. Furthermore, I enjoyed the insights of the drug development process in smaller biotech companies. With this challenge, new time consuming approaches such as a physiological disease model were developed for the ALS drug development, which are normally applied in more social disease. Out-of-the-box thinking by young, non-ALS-scientist created innovative ideas to slow down the disease progression and encourage further research”.

To give you an impression of the overall Treeway Summer Challenge 2015 have a look at the movies below:

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