New approach to treating human disease wins top international computational science prize

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Dr Peer Bork, a bioinformatician from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg (Germany), has won one of the largest international prizes in science, the Royal Society and Acad?mie des sciences Microsoft Award.

Dr Bork has won the 250,000 euro award, funded by Microsoft Research, for his research which aims to discover the important relations between the nature of the human microbiome (that is the union of all microorganisms that live in and around the human body) and various parameters such as age, ethnic background, disease status, nutrition habits and individual genetic components.

Due to tremendous improvements in technology, researchers from all over the world are able to capture genomic information from microbes, never seen before, from tiny samples (e.g., stool or bits of skin). This is translated into an enormous amount of digital data stored in various databases. Dr Bork will use computational analysis to make sense of this vast amount of information and begin to draw relationships between the different sets.

For example, when looking at samples from humans with diarrhoea, which causes one-fifth of child deaths worldwide, researchers might be able to find the species of microbe, perhaps even the genes in these, that cause this disease. They hope to then develop an understanding of how to prevent or quickly treat this, perhaps by having a yogurt containing other bacteria that selectively reduce the harmful microbes.

The Royal Society and Acad?mie des sciences Microsoft Award was established to uniquely recognise outstanding contributions to science made by scientists working at the intersection of science and computing. The 2009 award was open to research scientists working in Europe at the interface of the physical or biological sciences and computing.

Dr Bork?s earlier research uses computational analysis to mine lists of unwanted side effects of any given drug for information to work out possible new uses for the medication. Many drugs affect more than one target in the body and the resulting side effects, though often unwanted, can be beneficial. His research allows for the discovery of new uses of marketed drugs in the treatment of diseases they were not specifically developed for.

Dr Bork will receive his award during a ceremony at the Acad?mie des sciences, Palais de l?Institut de France in Paris on 17 November 2020.

Professor Denis Weaire FRS, Chair of the judging panel, and representative of the Royal Society, said, ?Dr Bork has made an outstanding contribution to the field of computational biology. His work promises to greatly speed up drug development by using computational data analysis to check drugs for additional hidden targets and potential uses in different therapeutic areas His latest research on the nature of the human microbiome promises to be equally exciting, with a huge potential to change how we treat disease.?



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