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New Network Connects the Dots Between Diseases

WEDNESDAY, April 29 -- The world's largest disease network database has been created by U.S. researchers.

The Phenotype Disease Network map, which summarizes disease associations in more than 30 million people, was created using insurance claims data, said the team from Northeastern and Harvard universities.

Details about the network were published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

Using the new database, the researchers found that people affected by diseases that are connected to other diseases tend to die sooner than those affected by less connected diseases.

"The use of networks to integrate different genetic, proteomic and metabolic data sets has been proposed as a viable path toward elucidating the origins of specific diseases," co-author Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, director of the Center for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University, said in a school news release. "Our map enables users to explore disease associations graphically using an interactive tool and compare the strength of disease associations observed in populations of different genders and ethnicities."

Cesar A. Hidalgo, lead researcher on the project and a researcher at the Center for International Development at Harvard, said in the news release that "mapping disease networks using digital medical records dramatically changes the way we understand diseases in general."

Such networks, he said, can also help identify other diseases that a person might be at risk of developing.

"This opens new potential applications and opportunities for digital medical records," Hidalgo said.

More information

Harvard and Northeastern universities have created a Web site for public access to the Human Disease Network.

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Posted: April 2009