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1.  Cognitive, Genetic and Brain Perfusion Factors Associated with Four Year Incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease from Mild Cognitive Impairment 
There is a range of factors that predict the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) dementia among patients with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).
To identify the neuropsychological, genetic and functional brain imaging data that best predict conversion to AD dementia in patients with amnestic MCI.
From an initial group of 42 amnestic MCI patients assessed with neurological, neuropsychological and brain SPECT, 39 (25 converters, 14 non-converters) were followed for 4 years, and 36 had APOE ε4 genotyping. Baseline neuropsychological data and brain SPECT data were used to predict which of the MCI patients would develop dementia by the end of the 4 years of observation.
The MCI patients who had converted to AD dementia had poorer performance on long-term visual memory and Semantic Fluency tests. The MCI subjects who developed dementia were more likely to carry at least one copy of the APOE ε4 allele (Hazard Risk = 4.22). There was lower brain perfusion in converters than non-converters, mainly in postcentral gyrus. An additional analysis of the SPECT data found differences between the MCI subjects and controls in the posterior cingulate gyrus and the basal forebrain. When the brain imaging and neuropsychological test data were combined in the same Cox regression model, only the neuropsychological test data were significantly associated with time to dementia.
Although the presence of reduced brain perfusion in postcentral gyrus and basal forebrain indicated an at-risk condition, it was the extent of memory impairment that was linked to the speed of decline from MCI to AD.
PMCID: PMC4111792  PMID: 24685632
Visual memory; cerebral perfusion; brain SPECT; four-year follow-up; prospective; longitudinal; Mild Cognitive Impairment; Alzheimer’s disease
2.  A two-year follow-up of cognitive deficits and brain perfusion in Mild Cognitive Impairment and mild Alzheimer’s disease 
The 15-Objects Test (15-OT) provides useful gradation of visuoperceptual impairment from normal aging through Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and correlates with temporo-parietal perfusion.
To analyse progression of 15-OT performance in Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and AD, and its correlates with cognition and Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT). Further, to examine neuropsychological and SPECT differences between the MCI patients who developed AD and those who didn’t.
From the initial 126 participants (42/group), 38AD, 39MCI and 38 elderly controls (EC) were reassessed (SPECT: 35AD, 33MCI, 35EC) after two years. The progression of cognitive and SPECT scores during this period was compared between groups, and baseline data between converters and non-converters. SPECT data were analysed by SPM5.
The 15-OT was the only measure of progression that differed between the three groups; worsening scores on 15-OT were associated with worsening in verbal and visual retention, and decreased perfusion on left postsubicular area. In the MCI patients cerebral perfusion fell over the two years in medial-posterior cingulate and fronto-temporo-parietal regions; AD showed extensive changes involving almost all cerebral regions. No SPECT changes were detected in controls. At baseline, the MCI patients who developed AD differed from non-converters in verbal recognition memory, but not in SPECT perfusion.
SPECT and 15-OT appear to provide a potential measure to differenciate between progression of normal aging, MCI and AD. Worsening on 15-OT was related to decreased perfusion in postsubicular area; but further longitudinal studies are needed to determine the contribution of 15-OT as a predictor of AD from MCI.
PMCID: PMC3589736  PMID: 22406443
Visuoperception; The 15-Objects test; cerebral perfusion; brain SPECT; two-year follow-up; prospective; longitudinal; Mild Cognitive Impairment; Alzheimer’s disease
3.  Brain perfusion correlates of visuoperceptual deficits in Mild Cognitive Impairment and mild Alzheimer’s disease 
Journal of Alzheimer's Disease  2010;21(2):557-567.
Visuoperceptual processing is impaired early in the clinical course of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The 15-Objects Test (15-OT) detects such subtle performance deficits in Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and mild AD. Reduced brain perfusion in the temporal, parietal and prefrontal regions have been found in early AD and MCI patients.
To confirm the role of the 15-OT in the diagnosis of MCI and AD, and to investigate the brain perfusion correlates of visuoperceptual dysfunction (15-OT) in subjects with MCI, AD and normal aging.
Forty-two AD, 42 MCI and 42 healthy elderly control (EC) subjects underwent a brain Single Photon Emission Tomography (SPECT) and separately completed the 15-OT. An analysis of variance compared 15-OT scores between groups. SPM5 was used to analyse the SPECT data.
15-OT performace was impaired in the MCI and AD patients. In terms of the SPECT scans, AD patients showed reduced perfusion in temporal-parietal regions, while the MCI subjects had decreased perfusion in the middle and posterior cingulate. When MCI and AD groups were compared, a significant brain perfusion reduction was found in temporo-parietal regions. In the whole sample, 15-OT performance was significantly correlated with the clinical dementia rating scores, and with the perfusion in the bilateral posterior cingulate and the right temporal pole, with no significant correlation in each separate group.
Our findings suggest that the 15-OT performance provides a useful gradation of impairment from normal aging to AD, and it seems to be related to perfusion in the bilateral posterior cingulate and the right temporal pole.
PMCID: PMC3306804  PMID: 20555146
Visuoperception; cerebral perfusion; brain SPECT; Mild Cognitive Impairment; Alzheimer’s disease
4.  Segmental neurofibromatosis type 2: discriminating two hit from four hit in a patient presenting multiple schwannomas confined to one limb 
A clinical overlap exists between mosaic Neurofibromatosis Type 2 and sporadic Schwannomatosis conditions. In these cases a molecular analysis of tumors is recommended for a proper genetic diagnostics. This analysis is challenged by the fact that schwannomas in both conditions bear a somatic double inactivation of the NF2 gene. However, SMARCB1-associated schwannomas follow a four-hit, three-step model, in which both alleles of SMARCB1 and NF2 genes are inactivated in the tumor, with one of the steps being always the loss of a big part of chromosome 22 involving both loci.
Case presentation
Here we report a 36-year-old woman who only presented multiple subcutaneous schwannomas on her right leg. To help discriminate between both possible diagnoses, an exhaustive molecular genetic and genomic analysis was performed on two schwannomas of the patient, consisting in cDNA and DNA sequencing, MLPA, microsatellite multiplex PCR and SNP-array analyses. The loss of a big part of chromosome 22 (22q12.1q13.33) was identified in both tumors. However, this loss involved the NF2 but not the SMARCB1 locus. SNP-array analysis revealed the presence of the same deletion breakpoint in both schwannomas, indicating that this alteration was actually the first NF2 inactivating hit. In addition, a distinct NF2 point mutation in each tumor was identified, representing independent second hits. In accordance with these results, no deletions or point mutations in the SMARCB1 gene were identified. None of the mutations were present in the blood. Two of the patient’s children inherited chromosome 22 deleted in schwannomas of the mother, but in its wild type form.
These results conclusively confirm the segmental mosaic NF2 nature of the clinical phenotype presented.
PMCID: PMC4310195
Neurofibromatosis type 2; Schwannomatosis; Multiple schwannomas; Segmental mosaicism; Genetic diagnostics
5.  The impact of childhood vaccines on bacterial carriage in the nasopharynx: a longitudinal study 
There is increasing evidence that childhood vaccines have effects that extend beyond their target disease. The objective of this study was to assess the effects of routine childhood vaccines on bacterial carriage in the nasopharynx.
A cohort of children from rural Gambia was recruited at birth and followed up for one year. Nasopharyngeal swabs were taken immediately after birth, every two weeks for the first six months and then every other month. The presence of bacteria in the nasopharynx (Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus) was compared before and after the administration of DTP-Hib-HepB and measles-yellow fever vaccines.
A total of 1,779 nasopharyngeal swabs were collected from 136 children for whom vaccination data were available. The prevalence of bacterial carriage was high: 82.2% S. pneumoniae, 30.6%, S.aureus, 27.8% H. influenzae. Carriage of H. influenzae (OR = 0.36; 95% CI: 0.13, 0.99) and S. pneumoniae (OR = 0.25; 95% CI: 0.07, 0.90) were significantly reduced after measles-yellow fever vaccination; while DTP-Hib-HepB had no effect on bacterial carriage.
Nasopharyngeal bacterial carriage is unaffected by DTP-Hib-HepB vaccination and reduced after measles-yellow fever vaccination.
PMCID: PMC4312604  PMID: 25642277
Non-specific vaccine effects; Measles; DTP; Nasopharyngeal bacterial carriage
7.  Tumor Growth Rate (TGR) is an early indicator of anti-tumor drug activity in phase I clinical trials 
RECIST evaluation does not take into account the pre-treatment tumor kinetics and may provide incomplete information regarding experimental drug activity. Tumor Growth Rate (TGR) allows for a dynamic and quantitative assessment of the tumor kinetics. How TGR varies along the introduction of experimental therapeutics and is associated with outcome in phase I patients remains unknown.
Experimental designs
Medical records from all patients (n=253) prospectively treated in 20 phase I trials were analyzed. TGR was computed during the pre-treatment period (REFERENCE) and the EXPERIMENTAL period. Associations between TGR, standard prognostic scores (RMH score) and outcome (PFS, OS) were computed (multivariate analysis).
We observed a reduction of TGR between the REFERENCE vs. EXPERIMENTAL periods (38% vs. 4.4%, P<.00001). Although most patients were classified as stable disease (65%) or progressive disease (25%) by RECIST at the first evaluation, 82% and 65% of them exhibited a decrease in TGR, respectively. In a multivariate analyses, only the decrease of TGR was associated with PFS (P=.004), whereas the RMH score was the only variable associated with OS (P=.0008). Only the investigated regimens delivered were associated with a decrease of TGR (P<.00001, multivariate analysis). Computing TGR profiles across different clinical trials reveals specific patterns of antitumor activity.
Exploring TGR in phase I patients is simple and provides clinically relevant information: (i) an early and subtle assessment of signs of antitumor activity; (ii) indpendent association with PFS; and (iii) It reveals drug-specific profiles; suggesting potential utility for guiding the further development of the investigational drugs.
PMCID: PMC3947306  PMID: 24240109
8.  Two Different rpf Clusters Distributed among a Population of Stenotrophomonas maltophilia Clinical Strains Display Differential Diffusible Signal Factor Production and Virulence Regulation 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;196(13):2431-2442.
The quorum-sensing (QS) system present in the emerging nosocomial pathogen Stenotrophomonas maltophilia is based on the signaling molecule diffusible signal factor (DSF). Production and detection of DSF are governed by the rpf cluster, which encodes the synthase RpfF and the sensor RpfC, among other components. Despite a well-studied system, little is known about its implication in virulence regulation in S. maltophilia. Here, we have analyzed the rpfF gene from 82 S. maltophilia clinical isolates. Although rpfF was found to be present in all of the strains, it showed substantial variation, with two populations (rpfF-1 and rpfF-2) clearly distinguishable by the N-terminal region of the protein. Analysis of rpfC in seven complete genome sequences revealed a corresponding variability in the N-terminal transmembrane domain of its product, suggesting that each RpfF variant has an associated RpfC variant. We show that only RpfC–RpfF-1 variant strains display detectable DSF production. Heterologous rpfF complementation of ΔrpfF mutants of a representative strain of each variant suggests that RpfF-2 is, however, functional and that the observed DSF-deficient phenotype of RpfC–RpfF-2 variant strains is due to permanent repression of RpfF-2 by RpfC-2. This is corroborated by the ΔrpfC mutant of the RpfC–RpfF-2 representative strain. In line with this observations, deletion of rpfF from the RpfC–RpfF-1 strain leads to an increase in biofilm formation, a decrease in swarming motility, and relative attenuation in the Caenorhabditis elegans and zebrafish infection models, whereas deletion of the same gene from the representative RpfC–RpfF-2 strain has no significant effect on these virulence-related phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC4054175  PMID: 24769700
9.  Egg and Egg-Derived Foods: Effects on Human Health and Use as Functional Foods 
Nutrients  2015;7(1):706-729.
Eggs are sources of protein, fats and micronutrients that play an important role in basic nutrition. However, eggs are traditionally associated with adverse factors in human health, mainly due to their cholesterol content. Nowadays, however, it is known that the response of cholesterol in human serum levels to dietary cholesterol consumption depends on several factors, such as ethnicity, genetic makeup, hormonal factors and the nutritional status of the consumer. Additionally, in recent decades, there has been an increasing demand for functional foods, which is expected to continue to increase in the future, owing to their capacity to decrease the risks of some diseases and socio-demographic factors such as the increase in life expectancy. This work offers a brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of egg consumption and the potential market of functional eggs, and it explores the possibilities of the development of functional eggs by technological methods.
PMCID: PMC4303863  PMID: 25608941
egg; egg-derived products; functional foods; cholesterol; technological elaboration; omega-3.
10.  Algorithm for Automatic Forced Spirometry Quality Assessment: Technological Developments 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e116238.
We hypothesized that the implementation of automatic real-time assessment of quality of forced spirometry (FS) may significantly enhance the potential for extensive deployment of a FS program in the community. Recent studies have demonstrated that the application of quality criteria defined by the ATS/ERS (American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory Society) in commercially available equipment with automatic quality assessment can be markedly improved. To this end, an algorithm for assessing quality of FS automatically was reported. The current research describes the mathematical developments of the algorithm. An innovative analysis of the shape of the spirometric curve, adding 23 new metrics to the traditional 4 recommended by ATS/ERS, was done. The algorithm was created through a two-step iterative process including: (1) an initial version using the standard FS curves recommended by the ATS; and, (2) a refined version using curves from patients. In each of these steps the results were assessed against one expert's opinion. Finally, an independent set of FS curves from 291 patients was used for validation purposes. The novel mathematical approach to characterize the FS curves led to appropriate FS classification with high specificity (95%) and sensitivity (96%). The results constitute the basis for a successful transfer of FS testing to non-specialized professionals in the community.
PMCID: PMC4281176  PMID: 25551213
11.  Field Trial Evaluation of the Performances of Point-of-Care Tests for Screening G6PD Deficiency in Cambodia 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e116143.
User-friendly, accurate, point-of-care rapid tests to detect glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PDd) are urgently needed at peripheral level to safely recommend primaquine for malaria elimination.
The CareStart G6PD RDT (AccessBio, New Jersey, USA), a novel rapid diagnostic test and the most commonly used test, the fluorescent spot test (FST) were assessed against the quantitatively measured G6PD enzyme activity for detecting G6PDd. Subjects were healthy males and non-pregnant females aged 18 years or older residing in six villages in Pailin Province, western Cambodia.
Of the 938 subjects recruited, 74 (7.9%) were severe and moderately severe G6PD deficient (enzyme activity <30%), mostly in male population; population median G6PD activity was 12.0 UI/g Hb. The performances of the CareStart G6PD RDT and the FST, according to different cut-off values used to define G6PDd were very similar. For the detection of severe and moderately severe G6PDd (enzyme activity <30%, <3.6 UI/g Hb) in males and females, sensitivity and negative (normal status) predictive value were 100% for both point-of-care tools. When the G6PDd cut-off value increased (from <40% to <60%), the sensitivity for both PoCs decreased: 93.3% to 71.7% (CareStart G6PD RDT, p = 10−6) and 95.5% to 73.2% (FST, p = 10−6) while the specificity for both PoCs remained similar: 97.4% to 98.3% (CareStart G6PD RDT, p = 0.23) and 98.7% to 99.6% (FST, p = 0.06). The cut-off values for classifying individuals as normal were 4.0 UI/g Hb and 4.3 UI/g Hb for the CareStart G6PD RDT and the FST, respectively.
The CareStart G6PD RDT reliably detected moderate and severe G6PD deficient individuals (enzyme activity <30%), suggesting that this novel point-of-care is a promising tool for tailoring appropriate primaquine treatment for malaria elimination by excluding individuals with severe G6PDd for primaquine treatment.
PMCID: PMC4277465  PMID: 25541721
12.  Sleep Apnea Is Associated with Subclinical Myocardial Injury in the Community. The ARIC-SHHS Study 
Rationale: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, although the underlying mechanisms are not well understood.
Objectives: We aimed to determine whether more severe OSA, measured by the Respiratory Disturbance Index (RDI), is associated with subclinical myocardial injury and increased myocardial wall stress.
Methods: A total of 1,645 participants (62.5 ± 5.5 yr and 54% women) free of coronary heart disease and heart failure and participating in both the Atherosclerosis Risk in the Communities and the Sleep Heart Health Studies underwent overnight polysomnography and measurement of high-sensitivity troponin T (hs-TnT) and N-terminal pro B-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP).
Measurements and Main Results: OSA severity was defined using conventional clinical categories: none (RDI ≤ 5), mild (RDI 5–15), moderate (RDI 15–30), and severe (RDI > 30). Hs-TnT, but not NT-proBNP, was associated with OSA after adjusting for 17 potential confounders (P = 0.02). Over a median of 12.4 (interquartile range, 11.6–13.1) years follow-up, hs-TnT was related to risk of death or incident heart failure in all OSA categories (P ≤ 0.05 in each category).
Conclusions: In middle-aged to older individuals, OSA severity is independently associated with higher levels of hs-TnT, suggesting that subclinical myocardial injury may play a role in the association between OSA and risk of heart failure. OSA was not associated with NT-proBNP levels after adjusting for multiple possible confounders.
PMCID: PMC3917380  PMID: 24156237
sleep disorders; troponin T; NT-proBNP; risk factors
13.  The multiple sclerosis visual pathway cohort: understanding neurodegeneration in MS 
BMC Research Notes  2014;7(1):910.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an immune-mediated disease of the Central Nervous System with two major underlying etiopathogenic processes: inflammation and neurodegeneration. The latter determines the prognosis of this disease. MS is the main cause of non-traumatic disability in middle-aged populations.
The MS-VisualPath Cohort was set up to study the neurodegenerative component of MS using advanced imaging techniques by focusing on analysis of the visual pathway in a middle-aged MS population in Barcelona, Spain. We started the recruitment of patients in the early phase of MS in 2010 and it remains permanently open. All patients undergo a complete neurological and ophthalmological examination including measurements of physical and disability (Expanded Disability Status Scale; Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite and neuropsychological tests), disease activity (relapses) and visual function testing (visual acuity, color vision and visual field). The MS-VisualPath protocol also assesses the presence of anxiety and depressive symptoms (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale), general quality of life (SF-36) and visual quality of life (25-Item National Eye Institute Visual Function Questionnaire with the 10-Item Neuro-Ophthalmic Supplement). In addition, the imaging protocol includes both retinal (Optical Coherence Tomography and Wide-Field Fundus Imaging) and brain imaging (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Finally, multifocal Visual Evoked Potentials are used to perform neurophysiological assessment of the visual pathway.
The analysis of the visual pathway with advance imaging and electrophysilogical tools in parallel with clinical information will provide significant and new knowledge regarding neurodegeneration in MS and provide new clinical and imaging biomarkers to help monitor disease progression in these patients.
PMCID: PMC4300678  PMID: 25512202
Multiple Sclerosis; Visual pathway; Neurodegeneration; Cohort studies
Respiratory physiology & neurobiology  2013;189(3):10.1016/j.resp.2013.08.020.
In previous calculations of how the O2 transport system limits V̇O2max, it was reasonably assumed that mitochondrial PO2 (PmO2) could be neglected (set to zero). However, in reality, PmO2 must exceed zero and the red cell to mitochondrion diffusion gradient may therefore be reduced, impairing diffusive transport of O2 and V̇O2max. Accordingly, we investigated the influence of PmO2 on these calculations by coupling previously used equations for O2 transport to one for mitochondrial respiration relating mitochondrial V̇O2 to PO2. This hyperbolic function, characterized by its P50 and V̇MAX, allowed PmO2 to become a model output (rather than set to zero as previously). Simulations using data from exercising normal subjects showed that at V̇O2max, PmO2was usually < 1 mm Hg, and that the effects on V̇O2max were minimal. However, when O2 transport capacity exceeded mitochondrial V̇MAX, or if P50 were elevated, PmO2 often reached double digit values, thereby reducing the diffusion gradient and significantly decreasing V̇O2max.
PMCID: PMC3834064  PMID: 24012990
bioenergetics; mitochondrial respiration; mitochondrial PO2; oxygen transport; V̇O2max
15.  Rigidity sensing and adaptation through regulation of integrin types 
Nature materials  2014;13(6):631-637.
Tissue rigidity regulates processes in development, cancer and wound healing. However, how cells detect rigidity, and thereby modulate their behaviour, remains unknown. Here, we show that sensing and adaptation to matrix rigidity in breast myoepithelial cells is determined by the bond dynamics of different integrin types. Cell binding to fibronectin through either α5β1 integrins (constitutively expressed) or αvβ6 integrins (selectively expressed in cancer and development) adapts force generation, actin flow, and integrin recruitment to rigidities associated with healthy or malignant tissue, respectively. In vitro experiments and theoretical modelling further demonstrate that this behaviour is explained by the different binding and unbinding rates of both integrin types to fibronectin. Moreover, rigidity sensing through differences in integrin bond dynamics applies both when integrins bind separately and when they compete for binding to fibronectin.
PMCID: PMC4031069  PMID: 24793358
16.  Biomedical research in a Digital Health Framework 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S10.
This article describes a Digital Health Framework (DHF), benefitting from the lessons learnt during the three-year life span of the FP7 Synergy-COPD project. The DHF aims to embrace the emerging requirements - data and tools - of applying systems medicine into healthcare with a three-tier strategy articulating formal healthcare, informal care and biomedical research. Accordingly, it has been constructed based on three key building blocks, namely, novel integrated care services with the support of information and communication technologies, a personal health folder (PHF) and a biomedical research environment (DHF-research). Details on the functional requirements and necessary components of the DHF-research are extensively presented. Finally, the specifics of the building blocks strategy for deployment of the DHF, as well as the steps toward adoption are analyzed. The proposed architectural solutions and implementation steps constitute a pivotal strategy to foster and enable 4P medicine (Predictive, Preventive, Personalized and Participatory) in practice and should provide a head start to any community and institution currently considering to implement a biomedical research platform.
PMCID: PMC4255881  PMID: 25472554
Biomedical Research; Chronic care; Clinical Decision Support Systems; Integrated Health Care Systems; Patient Decision Support Systems; Personal Health Folder
17.  Workforce preparation: the Biohealth computing model for Master and PhD students 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S11.
The article addresses the strategic role of workforce preparation in the process of adoption of Systems Medicine as a driver of biomedical research in the new health paradigm. It reports on relevant initiatives, like CASyM, fostering Systems Medicine at EU level. The chapter focuses on the BioHealth Computing Program as a reference for multidisciplinary training of future systems-oriented researchers describing the productive interactions with the Synergy-COPD project.
PMCID: PMC4255883  PMID: 25472654
Biomedical Research; Education; Integrated Health Care Systems; Master; PhD; Professionals; Systems Medicine; Training
18.  Predictive medicine: outcomes, challenges and opportunities in the Synergy-COPD project 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S12.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a major challenge for healthcare. Heterogeneities in clinical manifestations and in disease progression are relevant traits in COPD with impact on patient management and prognosis. It is hypothesized that COPD heterogeneity results from the interplay of mechanisms governing three conceptually different phenomena: 1) pulmonary disease, 2) systemic effects of COPD and 3) co-morbidity clustering.
To assess the potential of systems medicine to better understand non-pulmonary determinants of COPD heterogeneity. To transfer acquired knowledge to healthcare enhancing subject-specific health risk assessment and stratification to improve management of chronic patients.
Underlying mechanisms of skeletal muscle dysfunction and of co-morbidity clustering in COPD patients were explored with strategies combining deterministic modelling and network medicine analyses using the Biobridge dataset. An independent data driven analysis of co-morbidity clustering examining associated genes and pathways was done (ICD9-CM data from Medicare, 13 million people). A targeted network analysis using the two studies: skeletal muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity clustering explored shared pathways between them.
(1) Evidence of abnormal regulation of pivotal skeletal muscle biological pathways and increased risk for co-morbidity clustering was observed in COPD; (2) shared abnormal pathway regulation between skeletal muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity clustering; and, (3) technological achievements of the projects were: (i) COPD Knowledge Base; (ii) novel modelling approaches; (iii) Simulation Environment; and, (iv) three layers of Clinical Decision Support Systems.
The project demonstrated the high potential of a systems medicine approach to address COPD heterogeneity. Limiting factors for the project development were identified. They were relevant to shape strategies fostering 4P Medicine for chronic patients. The concept of Digital Health Framework and the proposed roadmap for its deployment constituted relevant project outcomes.
PMCID: PMC4255885  PMID: 25472742
chronic diseases; co-morbidities; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; information and communication technologies; modelling; network medicine; training
19.  Synergy-COPD: a systems approach for understanding and managing chronic diseases 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S2.
Chronic diseases (CD) are generating a dramatic societal burden worldwide that is expected to persist over the next decades. The challenges posed by the epidemics of CD have triggered a novel health paradigm with major consequences on the traditional concept of disease and with a profound impact on key aspects of healthcare systems.
We hypothesized that the development of a systems approach to understand CD together with the generation of an ecosystem to transfer the acquired knowledge into the novel healthcare scenario may contribute to a cost-effective enhancement of health outcomes. To this end, we designed the Synergy-COPD project wherein the heterogeneity of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was addressed as a use case representative of CD.
The current manuscript describes main features of the project design and the strategies put in place for its development, as well the expected outcomes during the project life-span. Moreover, the manuscript serves as introductory and unifying chapter of the different papers associated to the Supplement describing the characteristics, tools and the objectives of Synergy-COPD
PMCID: PMC4255903  PMID: 25472826
Chronic Diseases; Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease; COPD; Integrated Care; ICT; Systems Medicine; Predictive Medicine; Telemedicine
20.  Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease heterogeneity: challenges for health risk assessment, stratification and management 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S3.
Background and hypothesis
Heterogeneity in clinical manifestations and disease progression in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) lead to consequences for patient health risk assessment, stratification and management. Implicit with the classical "spill over" hypothesis is that COPD heterogeneity is driven by the pulmonary events of the disease. Alternatively, we hypothesized that COPD heterogeneities result from the interplay of mechanisms governing three conceptually different phenomena: 1) pulmonary disease, 2) systemic effects of COPD and 3) co-morbidity clustering, each of them with their own dynamics.
Objective and method
To explore the potential of a systems analysis of COPD heterogeneity focused on skeletal muscle dysfunction and on co-morbidity clustering aiming at generating predictive modeling with impact on patient management. To this end, strategies combining deterministic modeling and network medicine analyses of the Biobridge dataset were used to investigate the mechanisms of skeletal muscle dysfunction. An independent data driven analysis of co-morbidity clustering examining associated genes and pathways was performed using a large dataset (ICD9-CM data from Medicare, 13 million people). Finally, a targeted network analysis using the outcomes of the two approaches (skeletal muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity clustering) explored shared pathways between these phenomena.
(1) Evidence of abnormal regulation of skeletal muscle bioenergetics and skeletal muscle remodeling showing a significant association with nitroso-redox disequilibrium was observed in COPD; (2) COPD patients presented higher risk for co-morbidity clustering than non-COPD patients increasing with ageing; and, (3) the on-going targeted network analyses suggests shared pathways between skeletal muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity clustering.
The results indicate the high potential of a systems approach to address COPD heterogeneity. Significant knowledge gaps were identified that are relevant to shape strategies aiming at fostering 4P Medicine for patients with COPD.
PMCID: PMC4255905  PMID: 25472887
Chronic diseases; COPD; Disease heterogeneity; Integrated Care; Predictive Medicine; Redox disequilibrium; Systems Medicine; VO2max
21.  Systems Medicine: from molecular features and models to the clinic in COPD 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S4.
Background and hypothesis
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients are characterized by heterogeneous clinical manifestations and patterns of disease progression. Two major factors that can be used to identify COPD subtypes are muscle dysfunction/wasting and co-morbidity patterns. We hypothesized that COPD heterogeneity is in part the result of complex interactions between several genes and pathways. We explored the possibility of using a Systems Medicine approach to identify such pathways, as well as to generate predictive computational models that may be used in clinic practice.
Objective and method
Our overarching goal is to generate clinically applicable predictive models that characterize COPD heterogeneity through a Systems Medicine approach. To this end we have developed a general framework, consisting of three steps/objectives: (1) feature identification, (2) model generation and statistical validation, and (3) application and validation of the predictive models in the clinical scenario. We used muscle dysfunction and co-morbidity as test cases for this framework.
In the study of muscle wasting we identified relevant features (genes) by a network analysis and generated predictive models that integrate mechanistic and probabilistic models. This allowed us to characterize muscle wasting as a general de-regulation of pathway interactions. In the co-morbidity analysis we identified relevant features (genes/pathways) by the integration of gene-disease and disease-disease associations. We further present a detailed characterization of co-morbidities in COPD patients that was implemented into a predictive model. In both use cases we were able to achieve predictive modeling but we also identified several key challenges, the most pressing being the validation and implementation into actual clinical practice.
The results confirm the potential of the Systems Medicine approach to study complex diseases and generate clinically relevant predictive models. Our study also highlights important obstacles and bottlenecks for such approaches (e.g. data availability and normalization of frameworks among others) and suggests specific proposals to overcome them.
PMCID: PMC4255907  PMID: 25471042
Chronic diseases; COPD; Disease heterogeneity; Systems Medicine; Predictive Modeling; Co-morbidity
22.  The COPD Knowledge Base: enabling data analysis and computational simulation in translational COPD research 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S6.
Previously we generated a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) specific knowledge base ( from clinical and experimental data, text-mining results and public databases. This knowledge base allowed the retrieval of specific molecular networks together with integrated clinical and experimental data.
The COPDKB has now been extended to integrate over 40 public data sources on functional interaction (e.g. signal transduction, transcriptional regulation, protein-protein interaction, gene-disease association). In addition we integrated COPD-specific expression and co-morbidity networks connecting over 6 000 genes/proteins with physiological parameters and disease states. Three mathematical models describing different aspects of systemic effects of COPD were connected to clinical and experimental data. We have completely redesigned the technical architecture of the user interface and now provide html and web browser-based access and form-based searches. A network search enables the use of interconnecting information and the generation of disease-specific sub-networks from general knowledge. Integration with the Synergy-COPD Simulation Environment enables multi-scale integrated simulation of individual computational models while integration with a Clinical Decision Support System allows delivery into clinical practice.
The COPD Knowledge Base is the only publicly available knowledge resource dedicated to COPD and combining genetic information with molecular, physiological and clinical data as well as mathematical modelling. Its integrated analysis functions provide overviews about clinical trends and connections while its semantically mapped content enables complex analysis approaches. We plan to further extend the COPDKB by offering it as a repository to publish and semantically integrate data from relevant clinical trials. The COPDKB is freely available after registration at
PMCID: PMC4255911  PMID: 25471253
23.  Clinical Decision Support Systems (CDSS) for preventive management of COPD patients 
Journal of Translational Medicine  2014;12(Suppl 2):S9.
The use of information and communication technologies to manage chronic diseases allows the application of integrated care pathways, and the optimization and standardization of care processes. Decision support tools can assist in the adherence to best-practice medicine in critical decision points during the execution of a care pathway.
The objectives are to design, develop, and assess a clinical decision support system (CDSS) offering a suite of services for the early detection and assessment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can be easily integrated into a healthcare providers' work-flow.
The software architecture model for the CDSS, interoperable clinical-knowledge representation, and inference engine were designed and implemented to form a base CDSS framework. The CDSS functionalities were iteratively developed through requirement-adjustment/development/validation cycles using enterprise-grade software-engineering methodologies and technologies. Within each cycle, clinical-knowledge acquisition was performed by a health-informatics engineer and a clinical-expert team.
A suite of decision-support web services for (i) COPD early detection and diagnosis, (ii) spirometry quality-control support, (iii) patient stratification, was deployed in a secured environment on-line. The CDSS diagnostic performance was assessed using a validation set of 323 cases with 90% specificity, and 96% sensitivity. Web services were integrated in existing health information system platforms.
Specialized decision support can be offered as a complementary service to existing policies of integrated care for chronic-disease management. The CDSS was able to issue recommendations that have a high degree of accuracy to support COPD case-finding. Integration into healthcare providers' work-flow can be achieved seamlessly through the use of a modular design and service-oriented architecture that connect to existing health information systems.
PMCID: PMC4255917  PMID: 25471545
decision support; COPD; service oriented architecture; integrated care; rule-based systems
24.  The separation between the 5′-3′ ends in long RNA molecules is short and nearly constant 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(22):13963-13968.
RNA molecules play different roles in coding, decoding and gene expression regulation. Such roles are often associated to the RNA secondary or tertiary structures. The folding dynamics lead to multiple secondary structures of long RNA molecules, since an RNA molecule might fold into multiple distinct native states. Despite an ensemble of different structures, it has been theoretically proposed that the separation between the 5′ and 3′ ends of long single-stranded RNA molecules (ssRNA) remains constant, independent of their base content and length. Here, we present the first experimental measurements of the end-to-end separation in long ssRNA molecules. To determine this separation, we use single molecule Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer of fluorescently end-labeled ssRNA molecules ranging from 500 to 5500 nucleotides in length, obtained from two viruses and a fungus. We found that the end-to-end separation is indeed short, within 5–9 nm. It is remarkable that the separation of the ends of all RNA molecules studied remains small and similar, despite the origin, length and differences in their secondary structure. This implies that the ssRNA molecules are ‘effectively circularized’ something that might be a general feature of RNAs, and could result in fine-tuning for translation and gene expression regulation.
PMCID: PMC4267660  PMID: 25428360
25.  Serial assessment of lymphocytes and apoptosis in the prostate during coordinated intraprostatic dendritic cell injection and radiotherapy 
Immunotherapy  2012;4(4):373-382.
Local radiotherapy plus intratumoral syngeneic dendritic cell injection can mediate apoptosis/cell death and immunological tumor eradication in murine models. A novel method of coordinated intraprostatic, autologous dendritic cell injection together with radiation therapy was prospectively evaluated in five HLA-A2+ subjects with high-risk, localized prostate cancer, using androgen suppression, 45 Gy external beam radiation therapy in 25 fractions over 5 weeks, dendritic cell injections after fractions 5, 15 and 25 and then interstitial radioactive seed placement. Serial prostate biopsies before and during treatment showed increased apoptotic cells and parenchymal distribution of CD8+ cells. CD8+ T-cell responses to test peptides were assessed using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent spot IFN-γ production assay, demonstrating some prostate cancer-specific protein-derived peptides associated with increased titer. In conclusion, the technique was feasible and well-tolerated and specific immune responses were observable. Future trials could further test the utility of this approach and improve on temporal coordination of intratumoral dendritic cell introduction with particular timelines of therapy-induced apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC4241355  PMID: 22512631
immunotherapy; prostate; radiation; therapy

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