November 7, 2013

Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease Announces a Big Data Challenge to Find New Predictors of Cognitive Decline

Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease Announces a Big Data Challenge to Find New Predictors of Cognitive Decline

Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease Announces a Big Data Challenge to Find New Predictors of Cognitive DeclineChallenge NEW YORK, NY – The Global CEO Initiative (CEOi) on Alzheimer’s Disease,  Sage Bionetworks, and IBM’s DREAM, today announced the Alzheimer’s Disease Big Data (AD#1) Challenge at the Alzheimer’s Disease Summit: The Path to 2025.

The Summit, hosted by CEOi and the New York Academy of Sciences, is convening key industry, academic, government, and patient stakeholders to build on the current National Institutes of Health (NIH) milestones designed to achieve a means of prevention and effective treatment of Alzheimer’s by 2025.

Computational Challenges such as AD#1 engage diverse communities of data-focused scientists to competitively solve a specific problem in a given time period by placing scientific data, tools, scoreboards and the resulting predictive models into an open Commons or workspace – in effect, gamifying and “crowdsourcing” data analysis.

“Over 5 million Americans and almost 40 million people globally are currently afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). If ever there were a Grand Challenge for Alzheimer’s biomedical research, it is getting to a better understanding of the earliest markers of this disease so that effective disease-modifying treatments can be administered as early as possible in the progression of the disease,” said George Vradenburg, Chairman of USAgainstAlzheimer’s and convener of The Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease.  “This series of AD Challenges starting with AD#1 will be a global effort with government, science and business to help us broaden and fund the Challenges and turn new insights into benefits for the public.”

The AD#1 Challenge is intended to disrupt “business as usual” research with an innovative “big data” approach to identify more accurate predictive bio-markers for cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease that can be used by the scientific, industry and regulatory communities.  Registration is already open ( – !Synapse:syn2290704) and AD#1 organizers expect the Challenge to open in early 2014 with the final scoring of submissions taking place before the summer.

“Open science approaches such as this AD#1 Challenge are definitely tremendous accelerators for progress. Sage and DREAM have already shown that in the span of several months, DREAM Challenges can attract hundreds of teams who end up submitting thousands of predictive models to a single Challenge question,” said Stephen Friend. “How many years would it take the traditional siloed research lab to generate this many answers to a research question?”

AD#1, which is the first in a series of Alzheimer’s Big Data Challenges, will utilize data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI,, a world leader in sharing data. The ADNI dataset consists of cognitive, imaging, biological, and whole genome sequencing data on cohorts of volunteers, who range from cognitively normal, mild cognitive impairment and dementia. The best-performing predictive models from the Challenge will be tested by evaluation against a similarly structured validation data set. The Challenge’s winning team(s) will be featured as lead authors in a Challenge article in a prominent journal, yet to be announced.

Dr. Keoni Kauwe, Assistant Professor of Biology, Neuroscience (Brigham Young University) and AD Challenge Scientific Lead states that, “In addition to informing future drug development, the AD Challenge may provide insights into the biological mechanisms that allow “resilient” individuals to maintain cognitive function despite evidence of amyloid perturbation. This resilience may indicate underlying biology that protects individuals from Alzheimer’s disease despite other risk factors.”

“As populations across the world are aging the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease will be significant,” said Peter St. George-Hyslop, MD, Director of the Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases at University of Toronto and Professor of Experimental Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge and AD Challenge Co-Chair. “Even a small delay in disease onset will have notable impact worldwide. The AD Challenge is a unique international effort between scientists, data generators and funders to lessen a devastating disease of global proportion.”

A unique component of the AD#1 Challenge is the diversity of participation across a number of groups from pharmaceutical companies to private foundations to family funds.  Committed funding and support to carry out the Challenge derives from Alzheimer’s Research UK, BrightFocus Foundation, Pfizer Inc, the Rosenberg Alzheimer’s Project, the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund, Sanofi US and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, Inc.

“As an Alzheimer’s researcher, I couldn’t be more excited to see this type of collaboration,” said Reisa Sperling, MD, MMSc, director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a founding member of the ResearchersAgainstAlzheimer’s Network. “ADNI is an extremely rich dataset including MRI and genetic data with over 7 years of longitudinal follow-up. ADNI has been a pioneer in the standardizing and broad sharing of Alzheimer’s Disease research data. This Challenge will leverage the ADNI data and novel analytic methods in order to determine who is at highest risk for cognitive decline and over what time frame.”

The AD#1 Challenge will take place on Synapse (, Sage Bionetworks’ open compute platform that allows data to be worked on collaboratively by Challenge teams.  On Synapse, Challenge participants will record what processing and analysis they’ve done to the data, submit their predictive models to a real-time leaderboard for scoring and share their ideas, code and analysis results with others in the Challenge.

United States Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park applauded the effort to crowdsource important questions for Alzheimer’s disease research via the running Big Data Challenges. “These Challenges are truly awesome examples of what we at the White House want to highlight. It’s these types of open efforts that will help grow our economy and improve our world.”

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