Charitable organisation JDRF recently announced a collaboration with International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) to develop and apply machine learning methods to identify factors leading to the onset of type 1 diabetes (T1D).

JDRF has access to a huge amount of data from global T1D clinical and research projects, but has never had the capability to analyse it comprehensively. IBM’s cognitive computing experience will help find disease patterns, with a goal to create a foundational set of features common to all data sets.

T1D is a result of the autoimmune-mediated destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. Multiple genetic factors contribute to susceptibility to T1D, and environmental factors also play a major role in determining risk. Numerous scientific articles suggest that T1D is triggered by an exogenous factor with seasonal variation, consequently indicating that it is driven by one or several other environmental determinants. However, the exact cause or combination of causes that lead to the onset of the disease is currently unknown.

"IBM may provide some previously-unknown insight as to why some children develop T1D and others do not."

There is substantial evidence that less than 10% of genetically susceptible children progress to developing T1D. It is also notable that T1D incidence has increased several times over the past 50 years. The big data analysis by IBM may provide some previously unknown insight as to why some children develop the disease and others do not, as well as why the disease incidence is increasing.

This is not the first time that IBM will put its artificial intelligence platform into use for healthcare issues. Earlier this year, the company joined the American Heart Association (AHA) to collect and analyse data on employees’ health, based on AHA metrics and the workplace health environment. In addition, IBM started a partnership last year with the American Diabetes Association (ADA), which brought together IBM Watson’s cognitive computer power and the vast repository of ADA’s clinical and research data on Type 2 Diabetes (T2D).

As artificial intelligence is rapidly gaining momentum in the healthcare space, GlobalData expects to see some exciting breakthroughs in the approach to treatment and prevention of some major diseases over the next decade.