Big data suggests link between viruses and neurodegenerative disease

Veteran readers of this blog will recall our interest in a possible link between viral infections and terrible neurodegenerative diseases such as MS and MNR.(LSS 17 1 22 et al) Now a rather exciting new study, reported in Nature Briefings, has used some big data studies to push the conjecture along just a little further. We think there’s a couple of things to be learned today, but first one of their excellent summaries, if only because it links to the main paper And it’s a good one, folks.

Researchers have found a link between common viral infections and an elevated risk of having a neurodegenerative condition, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, later in life. Such links have been found between single viruses and diseases before — for example, between Epstein–Barr virus and multiple sclerosis. The new study looked more broadly, analysing about 450,000 electronic health records from Finland and the United Kingdom. Researchers caution that the data show only a possible connection, and that it’s still unclear how or whether the infections trigger disease onset.Nature | 5 min read

It’s a thorough study, because the database comprises 450 000 medical records. And those are spread over two countries. The researchers found 22 significant linkages, which constitutes 22 grounds for 22 research projects. So that’s someone off the streets. The whole thing is written up very judiciously, with plenty of criticisms and questions fairly acknowledged. Like; this is only a European study, so what about the rest of the world, where they have things such as Zika? And: what happens if you included reports from people who only had mild cases of flu, and so never went to the doctor? Does the virus cause the disease, or just trigger it? All of which proves that its early days, too early to jump to vast conclusions. But it is intriguing.

There’s a more general point as well. This research could not have happened without the use of advanced computer systems, originally developed for things like banking, mobile phones or even the military. Which only goes to show how research in one area can turn out to be ten times as useful somewhere else. Remember that the next time some slippery think tank tries to sell tax cuts as the panacea for all our woes.

#multiple sclerosis #motor neuron disease #epstein-barr virus #medicine #research

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