Thursday, November 29, 2012

DREAM-Phil Bowen ALS Prediction Prize4Life Challenge Winner, Guang Li Shares his Thoughts and Gratitude


ALS seemed to be a faraway thing for me in my early life. The only knowledge I had then was that it is the disease that paralyzed the famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.  It was not until the beginning of this year that I got to know more about ALS. I work at Sentrana, a scientific marketing company, and the son of one of our client’s was diagnosed with ALS around February of this year. During his visit to our office, although he was just in the early stages of the disease, I could still feel the difficulty both he and his mother were going through dealing with such a severe illness. But I was inspired by their optimistic attitude and courage to fight ALS. From our conversations with them, we learned that there was ALS data available, but little had been done to use modern data analysis tools to better understand ALS. Several months later, it was a very fortuitous opportunity that we found the ALS Prediction Prize challenge. My colleague, Luixia Wang, PhD, and I thought it would be meaningful to apply the mathematical/statistical tools we used in our daily business to try to contribute to solving this problem.

From then on, as we explored more about the ALS Prediction Prize challenge and the background information about the disease itself, we felt more and more empathy for those patients who suffer from the disease. The most encouraging part about the challenge was not only just how accurate the prediction algorithm we have created is, but even more about how so many minds could work together and so many efforts could be devoted to the domain of developing treatments and a cure for ALS. The winning of the challenge is a new start, rather than the end for my journey of exploration with ALS. My ability to contribute to the discovery of the disease mechanism may be very limited since I am not a clinical expert. Nevertheless, I believe I can be very involved and effective by working to raise the general public’s awareness about ALS so that more people know about the challenges and need for a treatment and cure for the disease.  If more funds are raised, more brain power will be invested in researching ALS, and there is no doubt we can expect a brighter future for all ALS patients.  

Humans have overcome and defeated many fatal diseases which seemed incurable at the beginning. I am confident that with so many people in the fight to make a difference, the victory day for ALS patients will eventually come in the near future.  

DREAM-Phil Bowen ALS Prediction Prize4Life Challenge Winner, Lilly Fang, JD Shares her Thoughts and Gratitude

As a new law school graduate, I had about three months between taking the bar exam and starting a job as an associate at a law firm, and I was looking for an interesting project to take on in my free time.  My boyfriend, Lester Mackey, PhD suggested that we work together on a competition that involved learning and data analysis; as a machine learning researcher, he had the experience to accompany my time and enthusiasm.  This would give me the opportunity to participate in an exciting competition, and in the process, improve my coding skills and learn a little bit about Lester’s field of research.

We chose to work on the ALS Prediction Prize challenge because the goal of advancing the science behind the disease was so compelling.  While we knew nearly nothing about the disease going in, working on the challenge showed us how devastating the effects of ALS can be.  For example, the measure we were trying to predict, the ALS Functional Rating Scale, is comprised of ten questions that assess a patient’s ability to perform basic tasks like speaking or walking. Working closely with this data was a reminder that ALS patients face the continued degradation of these familiar abilities with each passing month.  My involvement, then, led not only to a better understanding of statistical prediction but also to a heightened awareness of ALS.

Winning the ALS Prediction Prize challenge was a big surprise.  It was enormously encouraging that we were able to have some impact in an area in which neither of us had any substantive expertise.  This testifies to the merits of a crowdsourced model for innovation, which can empower individuals to make meaningful contributions in unfamiliar areas.  Winning the challenge also gave us the opportunity to meet with other participants and the organizers from Prize4Life and DREAM.  We were inspired by our discussions with these knowledgeable and dedicated people and came away with a better understanding of the context of our work.

Participating in the DREAM-Phil Bowen ALS Prediction Prize4Life challenge was an extraordinary experience.  I’m equally thrilled by our ability to contribute to ALS and grateful for the insights it has brought me.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dr. Neta Zach Interviewed for InnoCentive Blog

Prize4Life's Scientific Director Dr. Neta Zach was recently interviewed for InnoCentive's Seeker Spotlight blog.  To read her blog post, click here.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Prize4Life Board Member Pete Frates Inducted into ICL Hall of Fame

We're very happy to share Pete's news.  Read more about it at Pete's Blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Announcing the Winners of the $50,000 DREAM-Phil Bowen ALS Prediction Prize4Life Challenge!

The judging panel received an overwhelming response, with submissions coming from around the world. Given the quality of these submissions, the panel has DOUBLED the original prize purse to $50,000.

The winners of the DREAM-Phil Bowen ALS Prediction Prize4Life Challenge are: 

  • 1st Place Prize and Winners of $20,000: Lilly Wang, JD and Lester Mackey, PhD - Palo Alto, CA 
  • 1st Place Prize and Winners of $20,000: Liuxia Wang, PhD and Guang Li - Washington, DC 
  • 2nd Place Prize and Winner of $10,000: Torsten Hothorn, PhD - Munich, Germany 


For ALS patients and their families, this is a huge win and a very promising step toward effective treatments for ALS.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Crowdsourcing as a New Model for Research

Currently, ALS trials must include large numbers of patients to account for the enormous variance in the course of the disease progression within the ALS patient population, making these trials costly, slow and difficult to interpret. By making clinical trial data available to a global community of data scientists, researchers, and computer mavens, we are speeding up the process while driving down the costs of discovery, which is good news for both the scientific and patient communities we serve. Prize4Life’s mission is to accelerate the development of treatments for ALS using a prize-for-breakthrough model. The ALS Prediction Prize follows the success of the $1 million ALS Biomarker Prize4Life awarded earlier this year; both are examples of our organization successfully using crowdsourcing to encourage scientific and medical breakthroughs.

Winners of ALS Prediction Prize Use Algorithms to Predict Diseases’ Progress

The winning solvers of the ALS Prediction Prize have developed algorithms that predict a given patient’s disease status within a year’s time based on three months of data. This solution is important because it could impact how clinical trials for ALS therapies are designed and conducted, fostering faster breakthroughs in effective treatments for the disease. Registered solvers were provided a small subset of data from the PRO-ACT database, the largest database of clinical data from ALS patients ever created. The fully anonymized data includes patient demographics, medical and family history data, functional measures, vital signs and lab results. The full set of data from over 8,500 ALS patients will be globally available for research purposes beginning December 5, 2012. The Prediction Prize is a powerful example of how “Big Data” can lead to improved advances in medicine. Anyone with quantitative abilities, be they an engineer or atmospheric chemist, can help in the fight against ALS. Next, how this Crowdsourcing Approach can further research.

Prize4Life Will Announce the Winners of The DREAM-Phil Bowen ALS Prediction Prize4Life Challenge (ALS Prediction Prize) Next Week

This summer, Prize4Life launched it’s DREAM-Phil Bowen ALS Prediction Prize4Life Challenge. The DREAM-Phil Bowen ALS Prediction Prize4Life Challenge was aimed at confronting a specific and basic puzzling question in ALS. While most patients are like Lou Gehrig with a rapidly progressing disease course, some patients turn out to be more like Stephen Hawking, where the disease progression is delayed. What separates the Lou Gehrigs from the Stephen Hawkings? Within the ALS patient population there is enormous variability in the progress of the disease. Some people live for many years or even decades, while others die much sooner. This makes it extremely difficult to develop new and effective treatments for this as-yet incurable disease. Solving this mystery is important, for patients and their families and for those planning clinical trials of potential new treatments. The winners of the ALS Prediction Prize may hold the key. On average, people diagnosed with ALS, a fatal disease, live about 1,000 days (around three years). Currently, there is only one FDA approved drug available for ALS patients. The drug does not improve quality of life and only extends life by about three months. We are happy to announce that Prize4Life has selected its winners of the ALS Prediction Prize. Next up we will explain how the winners were chosen.