Microsoft, biotech company seek medical researchers, patient groups to help 'map' human immune system

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Microsoft is seeking new research partners to join its T-cell Antigen Map project — an ongoing effort to map the human immune system.

The project launched one year ago, when Microsoft partnered with Adaptive Biotechnologies, a Seattle-based biotech company. Under the partnership, researchers at Microsoft are using artificial intelligence to help analyze Adaptive Biotechnologies' high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics data on T-cell and B-cell receptors, which make up the immune system.

Microsoft's vision for the project is to create a universal blood test that not only detects a wide range of diseases, but also helps researchers personalize a patient's treatment based on their immunological history, such as what diseases they have overcome in the past.

"We set out to completely transform the way we diagnose, monitor and treat disease," Jonathan Carlson, PhD, director of immunomics at Microsoft's Healthcare NExT initiative, wrote in a Jan. 3 blog post. Healthcare NExT is Microsoft's umbrella program for various AI and cloud computing projects in healthcare.

For the next step in their T-cell Antigen Map project, Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies are inviting medical researchers, biobanks and patient groups to help the companies sequence T-cells from patients with one of five diseases: Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and Lyme disease. The companies' short-term goal is to sequence the T-cell repertoires from 25,000 individuals affected by these conditions.

"These diseases represent some of the different roles T-cells play in controlling or causing autoimmune diseases, cancers and infections," Dr. Carlson wrote, noting the potential this information holds for designing personalized drugs and vaccines. "For example, knowing the optimal T-cells for your specific cancer mutations would enable far more precision in prescribing personalized immuno-oncology interventions."

To date, Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies have entered into partnerships with researchers at Benaroya Research Institute at Seattle-based Virginia Mason, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

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