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CASE Reasearcher Wins $2.4M Grant

Rong Xu, PhD
Rong Xu, PhD

Ideatream's Rick Jackson talked with Rong Xu at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine - where she explained the vision behind the design.

She's basically instructing a computer how to search through more than 22 million published studies, reports and medical records - hoping to find alternative uses for medicines 'already approved' by the Food and Drug Administration.

XU: "That's exactly what I'm trying to do. So we have a drug - proven for one disease, there is no reason say, this drug cannot be used to treat other disease, so there's a use a huge advantage to use existing drug, finding new uses, because you don't need to do a full pharmaceutical company… to develop a compound, spending at least one billion dollars and taking ten years…. And then 90% of all drugs fail. But the advantage for this one is because this drug is already proven, we know it's used safely in a human - we just want some unexpected uses for this existing drug can save lots of time."

It has happened before - but generally by accident.
Aspirin is now used to prevent and manage heart disease for instance.... and there's another famous accidental discovery, we now just call - 'the little blue pill'.

XU: "Just like Viagra. It was originally approved for treating some other disease, and then during the practical use, they found some unusual side effect, like hypersexualarity… maybe it's better for the patient, but maybe it's good for other patients, so they start to re-target this drug, to use it to treat other diseases.

So her hope with this work is to speed up the discovery process.

XU: "For some diseases maybe there is no existing drug can be used to treat that, so you still need to start from scratch, but for a disease that may have a treatment among existing drugs - this is a more effective way."

What Xu and her program will do is look for therapeutic 'possibilities'.
But she says the computer - as smart as it is at crunching numbers... can't replace human intuition, or intelligence.

XU: "Yesterday I talked to my students and say, our work is more like detective work… we find evidence here, we find evidence there… we found many evidence … even though each evidence is not totally strong, but if we have ten different evidence pointed to the same direction, it is more likely this is true. It's just like a detective work."

Rong Xu's work could potentially be a time saver that also saves lives.... as years of research could be shaved from possible treatments - or even cures.

Rick Jackson is a senior host and producer at Ideastream Public Media. He hosts the "Sound of Ideas" on WKSU and "NewsDepth" on WVIZ.