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Artificial intelligence to assess the risk of neurodegenerative disease following COVID-19 infection

Luxembourg joins European COMMUTE project

02 May 2024 4minutes

The LIH and the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) at the University of Luxembourg joined the EU-funded COMMUTE project, aiming to advance our understanding of how infectious diseases such as COVID-19 can impact individual risk to develop neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson disease or dementia.

A four-year European project

COMMUTE, which stands for COMmorbidity Mechanisms UTilized in HealthcarE, is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing (SCAI) and backed by a 7.3 million euros grant from the European Commission. Over the next four years, an interdisciplinary team of top-tier experts will explore whether COVID-19 infections increase the risk of acquiring neurodegenerative diseases. An innovative AI-driven system will be developed to provide tailored risk assessments for individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing evidence points to a possible causal relationship between viral infection and the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. Identifying and understanding potential links is crucial for pinpointing high-risk groups and forging new paths in disease prevention.

Prof. Martin Hofmann-Apitius, the project’s lead and head of the Department of Bioinformatics at Fraunhofer SCAI, explains: “Early in the pandemic, we saw Parkinson-like symptoms in COVID-19 patients. Reports published later suggest a neuroinflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2 infections in some patients. These initial observations have led us to a comprehensive study into the relationship between COVID-19 and neurodegeneration.”

Dual approach to foster synergy between computational and biological methods

The COMMUTE project employs a dual approach to this complex issue: First, a data-driven strategy leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse existing patient data. The goal is to assess whether COVID-19 infection contributes to a heightened risk of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Secondly, a hypothesis-driven method that converts vast amounts of scientific literature into “knowledge graphs”. Modern AI methods are then used to test many disease hypotheses in parallel. This approach facilitates systematic testing of numerous disease hypotheses in cellular test systems, including experiments with brain organoids, 3D cell cultures derived from stem cells. These twin strategies aim to foster a dynamic synergy between computational and biological research methods.

Leveraging existing cohorts in Luxembourg

The team of Prof. Rejko Krüger, head of Transversal Translational Medicine at the LIH, head of the Translational Neuroscience group at the LCSB and clinical coordinator of COMMUTE, will contribute to the project with its clinical expertise and existing cohorts on Parkinson’s disease and COVID-19 in Luxembourg.

Infectious diseases have been previously linked with neurodegenerative processes, such as seen in multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, but the extent to which COVID-19 could contribute to an increased risk is not yet known. Already existing biological samples and data collected in the country will be used to better characterise the pathological processes a SARS-CoV-2 infections can cause in individuals,

he explains.

Personalised healthcare and drug repurposing

The insights gained from COMMUTE are set to revolutionise personalised healthcare, exemplified by a patient-oriented AI recommendation system for dementia and neurodegeneration risk assessment.

Given the profound implications of predicting increased health risks, COMMUTE also tackles its findings’ ethical and legal dimensions, incorporating input from patient advocacy groups.

Additionally, a key aspect of this research includes exploring the potential of already existing medications to treat dementia or prevent the onset of neurodegenerative processes potentially triggered by COVID-19. To this end, the project collaborates with REMEDI4ALL, which provides a unique platform for drug repurposing.

The project is set to run from December 2023 to November 2027. The project was inaugurated with its first consortium meeting in December 2023 at the Bonn-Aachen International Center for Information Technology.

Discover more about the COMMUTE project

Scientific Contact

  • Rejko
    Director, TTM



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