The company Verge Genomics, which uses genomic data for neuroscience therapeutics, announced that it will join specialized departments at four top universities to boost research in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The innovative industry-academic collaboration will combine machine learning with genomic, genetic, biological, and phenotypical data to accelerate the translation of pre-clinical models, the company said.
Joining Verge Genomics are researchers from the Motor Neuron Center at Columbia University, the Massachusetts General Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MGH), the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Keck School of Medicine, and the University of Michigan Medical School’s Department of Neurology.
“We’re excited to be collaborating with some of the top labs in the field of ALS who have been pioneers of iPSC-based and animal models of neurodegeneration,” Alice Zhang, Verge’s chief executive officer, said in a press release. “By combining cutting edge academic research with our expertise in computational genomics, we can improve the understanding of ALS obtained from pre-clinical systems and ultimately pave the way to better drugs for the benefit of patients.”
Patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) and genetically-modified rodent models have emerged as promising models to study neurodegenerative disease. iPSCs are stem cells created using a patient’s own differentiated cells. Then, with the right stimulus, the stem cells can be programmed to differentiate into any cell type, including neurons.
However, it is not yet clear to which extent these models can grasp the full complexity of ALS.
The collaboration aims to advance the understanding of ALS patient stem cell models and rodent models to enable the translation of effective therapies into the clinical realm.
Verge Genomics has built the largest collection of ALS patient genetic and gene expression data, along with a proprietary systems biology platform. Verge will use these assets to complement the imaging technology and ALS iPSC models developed by USC, the University of Michigan, and MGH.
The objective of this collaboration is to find ways to synthesize these technologies by generating integrated, large-scale genomic, imaging, and biological datasets that can bridge the gap between findings derived from patients and preclinical models of ALS.
“Working with Verge Genomics represents a way to accelerate findings derived from academic research. With one of the world’s largest ALS patient genomic database and novel findings from their proprietary platform, Verge is an excellent partner to form a better understanding of ALS, which ultimately will help us find more effective treatments for patients,” said Justin Ichida, PhD, assistant professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at Keck School of Medicine.