Microsoft Partners with Adaptive Biotechnologies to Create Amazing New Diagnostic Tool

What if we could predict diseases before they happen? What if we could treat diseases like multiple sclerosis and pancreatic cancer before they fully developed. Microsoft is partnering with a Seattle based Adaptive Biotechnologies in an attempt to make this possible. Keep reading to learn more about the project or follow the original story here.

Calling the human human system complex is an understatement. Elaborate as it is, the human immune system is also incredibly efficient. Indicators exist within the immune system that determine illness days or months before we even realize we’re sick. In some cases, the immune systems knows of a problems years in advance.

Given access to the same information, we might be able to treat diseases before they were even able to be diagnosed.

The goal behind Microsoft’s new partnership with Adaptive Biotechnologies is exactly that. Together, the two companies are embarking on a multi-year project to create a universal blood test. The test will be able to screen for anywhere between a few dozen to a few hundred disease simultaneously. The whole thing hangs on the idea of deciphering the information our immune system already knows.

Microsoft, for it’s part of the bargain, invested an unannounced amount of funding into Adaptive Biotechnologies. A suite of advances including cloud computing and machine learning services were also contributed by Microsoft. The investment as a whole is described as “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The simple hope behind the research is to let the immune system diagnose for us.

“Fundamentally, nature or evolution is more advanced in some ways than we’re ever going to be,” says Adaptive co-founder Harlan Robins.

The body’s system for picking up on diseases is called the adaptive immune system. It’s naturally more advanced than our understanding in many ways, confirms Robins. He concludes by implying that it likely always will be.

The information our immune system uses in this process is stored genes. These genes exist inside immune cells called T-cells, and B-cells. T-cells and B-cells are both found naturally in the blood. Adaptive utilizes a technology called next-generation sequencing to decode the information in those cells. The result is an immune profile that contains upwards of a billion points of data.

Inside all of that data are the warning signs of any disease that may be coming.

“It contains all the information about every disease you have in your system or have ever had in your system,” Robins says.

Right now we are unable to interpret that information. Robins describes the goal of Adaptive’s project as being able to read that data in real time.

Microsoft provides a lot in this area. It’s Machine Learning Technology holds incredible promise. A form of artificial intelligence, the machine learning computing will be able to use the blood test to screen for broad batches of disease all at once.

Chad Robins, Adaptive’s CEO, describes the versatility of the technology by comparing it to an X-Ray machine. An X-ray isn’t limited to looking through or revealing just on specific object. He is hopeful that the test could be used to diagnose anything from multiple sclerosis to autoimmune disease.

The hope is that Adaptive’s new test will become part of routine checkups. Every annual doctor’s visit would include this quick test. The markers detected in the immune system would allow physicians to predict oncoming diseases. Doctors may even be able to use the test to determine how a patient would respond to treatment.

Adaptive plans to focus its initial efforts on three classes of disease.

The first category consists of diseases that are often diagnosed in their late stages. This includes pancreatic and ovarian cancers. Autoimmune disease, which are typically difficult to diagnose, make up the second category. The third category is defined by diseases such as Lyme disease that persist in a person’s immune system and can reoccur.

Harlan Robins describes the projects biggest challenges as regulatory rather than technological. In the current medical world, tests are only authorized to diagnose one condition at a time. This means Adaptive’s test would have to be re-approved for every application. The other major speed bump Robins predicts is insurance companies.

Despite these challenges, Adaptive’s success could change the landscape of medical science. It changes the thought patterns regarding health from reactive to proactive.

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