Researchers develop computer application to 'read' medical literature, find data relationships

DALLAS Jan. 22, 2004 Until recently, researchers and their assistants spent countless hours poring over seemingly endless volumes of journals and scientific literature for information pertinent to their studies in fields such as cancer, AIDS, pediatrics and cardiology.

But thanks to new software developed by bioinformatics researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, scientists can now easily identify obscure commonalities in research data and directly relate them to their studies, saving money and speeding the process of discovery.

The computer application is unique because it "emulates the scientific thought process" in researching data, said Dr. Harold "Skip" Garner, professor of biochemistry and internal medicine, who with former graduate student Dr. Jonathan Wren developed the system.

"This work is about teaching computers to 'read' the literature and make relevant associations so they can be summarized and scored for their potential relevance," said Dr. Wren, now a researcher in the department of botany and microbiology at the University of Oklahoma. "For humans to answer the same questions objectively and comprehensively could entail reading tens of thousands of papers."

The proprietary software, the basis for a new company called etexx Biopharmaceuticals (www.etexxbio.com), has already helped predict new uses for existing drugs to combat cardiac disease. The UT Southwestern researchers' work with this computer application appears in the current issue of the journal Bioinformatics and is available online.

The software, called IRIDESCENT, constructs a network of related objects starting with their co-occurrence within MEDLINE abstracts. MEDLINE is the National Library of Medicine's prime bibliographic database covering medicine, nursing, dentistry, health care and the preclinical sciences.

To identify and evaluate what biomedical objects (such as genes, phenotypes, chemicals and disease

Contact: Scott Maier
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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