An innovative training network, coordinated by Jérôme Noailly, principal investigator of the area of Biomechanics and Mechanobiology of the BCN MedTech research unit and VPHi member, aims to advance computational simulations integrated into translational medicine, applied to intervertebral disc degeneration.
Lumbar back pain is the largest cause of morbidity worldwide, but there is controversy as to its specific cause, which involves poor treatment options and prognoses. The degeneration of the intervertebral disc is the leading unique cause of back pain in middle-aged adults and, in general, among the active population; but the effect of the interactions among genetic, biochemical, mechanical, social and psychological factors, is not sufficiently known.
“Although there is a great deal of clinical and experimental evidence related to intervertebral disc degeneration, it has not yet been possible to integrate the degenerative processes and risk factors that come from these data on a holistic and rational map of interactions. Achieving this map would be a huge step forward for preventing and more sustainably treating chronic lumbar back pain, which affects the quality of life of many people. Hence, we need to create cross-cutting professional skills that current training programmes fail to address”, says the Disc4All project coordinator, Jérôme Noailly, principal investigator in the Biomechanics and Mechanobiology research area at BCN MedTech, within the UPF Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DTIC).
Disc4All, is one of the ten selected projects in Catalonia as an Innovative Training Network (ITN) Marie Sklodowska-Curie, in the European Commission’s ITN MSC Actions call.
Disc4All aims to integrate available data and computational simulations on back pain caused by intervertebral disc degeneration with a multidisciplinary translational medicine approach. On the one hand, the unique population cohort data from Twins UK (King’s College London) and from the Northern Finland Birth Cohorts (University of Oulu) will be exploited to generate matching sets of molecular profiles and specific intervertebral disc phenotype. On the other hand, cell and organ culture laboratory experiments will be used to pinpoint the most likely relationships among molecular profiles and cell microenvironments. Computer simulations will integrate these population and experimental data, to predict the cell microenvironments through multiscale modelling, and to extract the causality between the emergence of specific molecular activity and specific intervertebral disc phenotypes.Finally, data mining and artificial intelligence techniques will generate interpretable correlation models between measurable clinical data and unmeasurable, but predicted, key regulators of cell and molecular activities. The final output shall be identification of rational patient-specific maps of concurring risk factors.
With a consortium of 11 beneficiaries, complemented by eight partner organizations, Disc4All aims to address this problem through the collaborative experience of physicians; physicists and computational biologists; geneticists; computer scientists; cell and molecular biologists; microbiologists; bioinformaticians; and industrial partners. Only at UPF, research will cover various topics such as data science and machine learning, medical image analysis and processing and computational biology and biomechanics, thanks to the joint supervision by Gemma Piella, Miguel Ángel González Ballester and Jérôme Noailly, all principal investigators of the BCN MedTech research unit. The project also addresses the importance of the role of the society in promoting new medical technologies.
Further information can be found here