From a small office on the SUNY Oswego campus, assistant professor Dr. Sungeun Kim is developing a tool to connect the dots between Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
But, he’s not a medical doctor…he’s a computer engineer.
“The size of the data is enormous. So, sometimes we compare it to finding the needle in the haystack,” he explains.
For years, doctors scattered across the country have analyzed pieces of information from patients including DNA tests, brain imaging, and their diet.
“Right now people are using this data one by one,” Dr. Kim adds.
Medical researchers would like a shortcut, allowing them to quickly compare multiple test results from a larger pool of people, both with and without neurodegenerative diseases.
They hope more data will reveal what patients have in common and how they differ. The goal is to figure out a way to diagnose the diseases early and improve treatment methods.
“If it takes 10-years, 20-years, decades, then what does that mean? We want to tackle that problem as soon as possible. That is our task.”
First, Doctor Kim says researchers need a “supercomputer” and tools that can handle the load of all that big clinical data.
With a nearly $119,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Kim is using his computer engineering skills to help two colleagues develop software that will be shared with researchers who need to analyze massive data pools.
He’s combined his technological knowledge with the health field before, spending years on projects at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he is also an adjunct assistant professor and continues working with colleagues on grant projects.
The connection gives him access to Indiana University’s “Big Red II” supercomputer and an advanced storage system.
Along the way, one or more SUNY Oswego students may be hired to work on the project, giving them hands-on experience dealing with a global health issue.
The college offers an undergraduate program in electrical and computer engineering and a graduate program in biomedical and health informatics.
Dr. Kim knows his work is just a piece of a bigger medical puzzle.
“What I can contribute to this world, to mankind, is very very tiny,” Dr. Kim says. But, even if it is tiny and it accumulates, at the end I want to contribute.”