European Association of Systems Medicine

Overview

EASyM 2019 Conference: Big Data – Transition to Practice.

7-9 November 2018 Utrecht, The Netherlands

The Annual meeting of the European Association of Systems Medicine was held at the Muntgebouw (‘Mint Building’) from Wednesday, November 7-9, 2018 in Utrecht. This year’s meeting, with the theme Big Data – Transition to Practice, brought together an international and interdisciplinary blend of more than 200(?) scientists and trainees from academic institutions and the industry. The EASyM conference offered a unique state-of-the-art on the critical roles of academia, government, and industry in moving from Big Data analysis to clinical practice. Various specialties presented the first applications of the use of ‘omics’-based molecular profiling and data-driven patient stratification that help to more efficiently treat and monitor human pathologies.

The European Union recognizes the need for a solid computational infrastructure to ensure the realisation of Systems Medicine – explained scientific officer Christina Kyriakopoulou (European Commission) in her opening talk. She presented the European Open Science Cloud initiative to provide scientists, industry and public authorities a world-class digital infrastructure that will facilitate and connect partners in systems medicine approaches across Europe. General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, became law in May 2018. This law ensures high quality standards for the safety of privacy of individuals and their healthcare data within the European Union and the European Economic Area. However, as former EASyM board member David Supple, GDPR expert, stresses in his presentation, there is room for improvement with respect to the practical consequences of GDPR for both patient and healthcare professionals, in particular with respect to how to deal with privacy violations and the impact of removing (patient) data from scientific literature. One of many putative solutions to these questions is to minimize the use of personal data by other parties. Prof. Jan Baumbach of the Technical University of Munich presented the (FeatureCloud), a platform intended to facilitate the exchange of anonymised data to scientists while maintaining the personal data at the clinic of the patient.

During the fully-booked workshop, attendees got a first-hand experience of medical data modelling for clinical decision making. Dr. Miha Moškon and Dr. Tavpritesh Sethi covered a tutorial on complex liver metabolism and machine learning in Medicine, while Dr. Aridaman Pandit demonstrated how clinical decisions can be guided by big data. A tutorial on the epigenomic signatures as prognostic biomarkers in rheumatoid arthritis was provided by Prof. Dr. Carl Goodyear. Prof. Gerold  Baier from University College London demonstrated a newly integrated online platform for training in data science for medicine.  Prof Sona Vasudevan from Georgetown University showed the efforts of Georgetown University to generate the ‘new type of physicians’ that are able to combine insights from ‘omics’ technologies with their clinics.

This year’s conference was much characterized by examples of the transition into practice of Systems Medicine across various medical fields. Prof Dr Jochen Prehn, Director of the Centre for Systems Medicine, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, explained how modelling of caspase signaling in tumours predicts response to therapy in glioblastoma and in colon cancer. By multi-omics analysis, Prof Åsa Wheelock demonstrated the existence of previously underappreciated molecular endotypes of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Prof M.A. Heeren, Director of the M4I Institute at Maastricht University, the Netherlands, presented an innovative mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) tool the iKnife, which couples a surgical blade to a spectrometer to give real-time information about the molecular composition of (tumour)tissue during an operation to remove malignant tissue. An exciting upcoming field focuses on the effects of the environment on health and wellbeing. Dr. Ir. Roel Vermeulen, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at University Medical Centre Utrecht, defined the so called ‘exposome’ an approach to systematically connecting the environment to health. Many human diseases are linked with environmental factors, but not all risk factors are known or underestimated. An important source of information about environmental factors in disease could be coming from patients, reasoned Tjiske Bezema, Founder of Immunowell. She presented a platform that collects patient stories to provide insights into their diseases.

A key environmental research field is the study of the  microbiome. In a dedicated session on the microbiome, Prof. Dr. John Cryan, University College Cork, showed the interplay between the composition of the microbiome and stress. Dr. Cryan proposed to use the status of a persons’ microbiome in medicine by application of psychobiotics drugs or personalised nutrition plans. Although microbiome studies are promising, Prof Jeroen Raes from the Catholic University Leuven stresses we should first establish the definition of a ‘healthy’ microbiota. He presented a Flemish population project that underscore the importance of standardised operating procedures in microbiome studies.

Altogether, this was a highly fruitful meeting where many collaborations were born, friends were made and progress in the field of systems medicine was made. We hope to see you at the 2019 meeting in Washington (website) and in Munchen 2020.

The conference was financially supported by AbbVie Inc., F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., Eli Lilly and Company, Pfizer Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Olink, Biomax Informatics AG. Furthermore, The European Association of Systems Medicine received grants from the Celgene Cooperation, ZonMw and the European Commission (FP7-funded Coordinating Action Systems Medicine).