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$25K Prize For Predicting How Fatal Disease Will Progress

ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, for the famous baseball player who died of it (Wikimedia Commons)
ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, for the famous baseball player who died of it (Wikimedia Commons)

Calling all computational minds. You don't need to cure ALS. You just need to predict its progress better than we can now. Your reward: A $25,000 prize from the Cambridge-based nonprofit Prize4Life — and the knowledge that your work could hasten the development of drugs for the fatal neurological disease.

Why offer a prize just for predicting the course of a disease rather than curing it?

Melanie Leitner, Chief Scientific Officer of Prize4Life:

"Our focus is on attacking ALS from all angles, including prizes for innovations in both disease prediction and therapeutic breakthroughs. We recently launched the ALS Treatment Prize for a therapy that does just that: slow down disease progression disease. We’ve created this prize because finding an algorithm to predict progression will be enormously helpful for future clinical trials and will help speed up the discovery and development of the drugs that will help ALS patients in the future (hopefully including some of those that were incentivized by the ALS Treatment Prize!)."

And didn't someone just win a big ALS prize? How is this one different? (Here's the New York Times story from last year: $1 Million Prize to Inventor of a Tracker for ALS.)

Melanie Leitner:

"These prizes complement each other. While the ALS treatment prize and some of our other prizes and programs are designed with medical and scientific researchers in mind, the ALS Prediction Prize will be awarded to the team that creates an effective algorithm, which could include mathematicians, statisticians, coders and many other brilliant computational minds around the world. The prize will hopefully help move promising drugs more quickly and effectively through the ALS drug development pipeline.

(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

Background from Prize4Life:

Prize4Life is a nonprofit, prize-for-breakthrough organization started by CEO Avi Kremer, who was diagnosed with ALS during his first semester at HBS and turned his diagnosis into an opportunity for social entrepreneurship. The latest prize will award $25,000 to the person or team that cracks the code on ALS by writing an algorithm that predicts likely disease progression, which is critical for estimating lifespan and establishing effective clinical trials. The code will be crowdsourced and will allow would-be prize winners to tap into a first-of-its-kind database of non-personalized patient data donated by major pharmaceutical companies, academic and research institutions.

The Prize4Life Website posts full details on the prize here.

This program aired on July 16, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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