Marinka Zitnik

Fusing bits and DNA

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Bioinformatics: What side effects to expect if taking multiple drugs?

Many patients take multiple drugs at the same time to treat complex diseases, such as heart failure, or co-occurring diseases, such as diabetes and epilepsy. The use of combinations of drugs is a common practice. In fact, 25 percent of people ages 65 to 69 take at least five prescription drugs to treat chronic conditions, a figure that jumps to nearly 46 percent for those between 70 and 79.

However, a major consequence of drug combinations for a patient is a much higher risk of side effects. These side effects emerge because of drug-drug interactions, in which activity of one drug may change, favorably or unfavorably, if taken with another drug. These side effects are extremely difficult to identify manually because there are combinatorically many ways in which a given combination of drugs clinically manifests and each combination is valid in only a certain subset of patients. It is also practically impossible to test all possible pairs of drugs and observe side effects in relatively small clinical testing.

In our latest research published in Bioinformatics, we develop an approach for computational screening of drug combinations. The approach predicts what side effects a patient might experience when taking multiple drugs simultaneously.

Technically, this work defines a novel approach that blends deep learning for graphs with network science to achieve benefits from each. See the paper and project website for details!