Announcing the 2019 Michelson Prize Winners

Science


We are working toward AI-driven models of immunity.

A New Approach to Fighting Disease

Inside each of us lies a vast potential to fight disease. From viral and parasitic to bacterial infections and cancers, the immune system is the primary way the human body combats disease. Due to the immense scale of the human immune system, scientists have never been able to characterize the core parts by which it adapts to and fights disease.

Dramatic technological advances in genomics, bioinformatics, and frontier computing make it now possible to decode the human immune system for the first time. To achieve this goal, our scientific plan focuses on two areas:

  1. Understanding the rules and components of immunity
  2. Creating AI-driven models of immunity

In the first 3 years of the Project, we have already:

  • Open sourced the first sequencing of the human immune system.
  • Used machine learning to predict who will and will not respond to vaccination.
  • Established one of the world’s leading scientific consortium across industry, government, and academia.

In the next five years, we aim to accomplish the following:

  • Finish the initial genetic sequencing of the human immune system.
  • Determine the initial rules by which the immune system fights disease.
  • Develop the first AI models of the human immune system

Successfully achieving these objectives will significantly advance our ability to combat disease, and directly enable scientists around the globe to develop potent vaccines and therapeutics against some of humanity’s most devastating diseases.

Understanding the Rules of Immunity

Our scientists conduct some of the most intensive and comprehensive clinical studies ever undertaken to understand principles of human immunity. We seek to understand why some people respond to vaccines and immunotherapies, while others do not, and translate those insights into long-term protection from disease for people across the globe. Our studies include people of varying ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds across the globe to answer key questions:

  • Why are some people protected from disease while others remain healthy?
  • Why do some people respond to cancer immunotherapy while others do not?
  • Why are some vaccines more effective for certain populations than others?

This includes work, led by by Dr. James E. Crowe, Jr., Director of the Vanderbilt University Vaccine Center, to sequence the immunome, which is the underlying genes that make up adaptive receptors on the surface of human B- and T-cells. We also have several studies ongoing, including the most comprehensive study of influenza ever undertaken, led by Dr. C. Buddy Creech of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Tobias Kollmann at the Telethon Kids Institute is leading studies to determine the principles of one shot protection from vaccination, while Dr. Shane Crotty at the La Jolla Institute has pioneered new ways to monitor human immune responses within tissues.

Turning Data Into Insights

We are at forefront of applying bioinformatics, frontier supercomputing, and machine learning to this growing body of data to understand the dynamics of the human immune system. The goal is to create AI-driven models of immunity that will transform and accelerate the creation of more effective diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies.

New genomics and molecular biology tools now available are yielding billions of data points on single individuals, providing unparalleled insight into individual mechanisms of immunity.

To manage and analyze this volume of data, we have established a global Bioinformatics and Machine Learning Core, led by Dr. Richard Scheuermann at the J. Craig Venter Institute and Dr. Robert Sinkovits at the University of California, San Diego, making use of the extensive computing resources at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

Our unique consortium model breaks down traditional barriers between the biological and computer sciences. Leading bioinformatics researchers work with top vaccine scientists to design, implement, and analyze outputs from our scientific studies.

As a global nonprofit, we are committed to open-source access to our data. We are working with leading cloud-based and machine learning platforms to enable access to our data, leveraging the expertise from the global research community.

Study Highlight: Decoding the Immunome

Nature has published the first results of our effort to sequence the human immunome. Led by Dr. James E. Crowe at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the study shows the potential of our approach in merging cutting-edge biological research with frontier of computing advancements to decode the human immune system.

This work begins to define, for the first time, the genetic underpinnings of our ability to respond and adapt to an immense number of disease threats. Until now, this was considered too large and complex a project to undertake, as the human immune system is billions of times larger than the human genome. 

We believe that this foundational data will enable research across a wide range of disease areas, while also facilitating the development of highly targeted and, someday, computationally designed vaccines and immunotherapies. This work complements another paper in Nature from a group at Human Vaccines Project scientific partner Scripps Research, which used different methods to describe the sequencing of the human immune system.

Together, the papers underscore the feasibility of decoding the human immune system by combining cutting-edge biological research with advancements from frontier supercomputing and bioinformatics. Work is ongoing to sequence additional arms of the immune system and to expand to new demographics, including supercentenarians and globally diverse populations. We plan to release those results in subsequent publications throughout the year. Learn more in our press release here.