Zegami, the Oxford University data visualisation spin-out, has joined an international team of medical researchers to try and find the cause of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
The startup believes the project could lead to the discovery of the root cause of the condition and could help in the development of the first ever medical test for ME/CFS, new treatments, or even to find a cure.
The work could also help researchers studying other medical conditions that have a fatigue symptom, including cancer, strokes, Parkinson Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
ME/CFS affects 20 million people worldwide, but it is not clear what causes it. Complex and variable symptoms make it difficult to diagnose and only five per cent of patients make a full recovery. Research into the causes has been limited due to a lack of funding, but the recent identification of high levels of L-form bacteria in the blood of patients suggests they may play a role in condition.
The new research project will be the largest of its kind in Europe, involving three ME/CFS research centres in Oxford, Bydgoszcz in Poland, and Valencia in Spain.
The project, which will last from four to five-year period, will be led by Karl Morten from the Department of womens and reproductive health at the University of Oxford, has secured funding worth $750,000 from SoftCell Biologicals, which have developed a patent-pending protocol to culture and examine hidden bacteria in the circulatory system; and is looking to raise an additional £1.6 million.
The study will generate thousands of items of data, and Zegami will work with the project team to build a model using artificial intelligence and data visualisation tools to help analyse these, and more easily identify trends and patterns.
The project uses Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cell (PBMC) data obtained from the UK ME/CFS biobank, which includes samples of ME/CFS, Multiple Sclerosis and healthy control groups.
A technique called Raman spectroscopy is then used and visualised in Zegami, which was able to clearly differentiate between the three different groups. These results represent an important first step in developing a diagnostic test for the bacteria.
The bio-resources collected during this project will be appropriately stored and made available to future studies, encouraging new investigators and clinicians into the fatigue research area.
Karl Morten, director of graduate studies and principal investigator at The University of Oxford, said: “Our hope is that if we can find out what causes this debilitating disease and a test can then quickly be developed to help identify when people are suffering from it.
“With diagnosis in many cases taking over 10 years, early detection could potentially enable patients to take steps to prevent the condition from getting worse and increasing the chances of a full recovery – the ultimate prize would be that our work would contribute to the medical profession finding new treatments and ultimately a cure.”
Roger Noble, chief executive and founder of Zegami said: “Medical research is one of the biggest adopters of data visualisation tools and its use of these is increasing rapidly – we are involved in a number of medical projects looking at cancer and cardiovascular diseases, for example.”