Science and Medicine - Teaming Up against Pediatric Diseases

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Science and Medicine - Teaming Up against Pediatric Diseases


Computer scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory have partnered with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to advance research that may help prevent or treat cancer, ALS, lissencephaly and other pediatric diseases.

ORNL first partnered with the research hospital in 2009 to provide software that could analyze movement and changes in nerve cells and neurons of young mice.

"It started as a small seed-money project which was funded from the Oak Ridge side to do video and image processing, and look at high-resolution images of neurons that were acquired using equipment at St. Jude," said Shaun Gleason, director of ORNL's Computational Sciences & Engineering Division.

"They had a lot of trouble processing and analyzing all of the image and video data required through microscopes, so they came to us."

The link to serious diseases

Scientists at St. Jude's Department of Developmental Neurobiology in Memphis have been using advanced microscopes to capture images of mice neurons. Certain nerve migration or organization patterns can be linked to serious diseases.

"Neurons are just a particular kind of cell," Gleason said. "You think about the human body as made up of organs; well at the cellular level, neurons have organelles. So we look at things like RNA granules and how they move within the neuron, and there appears to be a connection between RNA granules and a disease called ALS."

ALS is a neurological disease that impacts muscle strength and function.

In the last eight years, the partner organizations have looked at a variety of problems in developmental neurobiology.

"Ultimately, we're interested in enabling them through the tools that we create to more efficiently get to answers in their research, which will hopefully lead to certain aspects of describing the ailments that children often have," said Derek Rose, who leads ORNL's work in imaging, signals and machine learning.

"That's kind of their focus in general, and so we try to keep that kind of in the back of our minds as we're working on this. …

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