I’m only one person. How can I possibly impact disease research just by checking off what symptoms I have and what treatments I’ve tried?
If you are thinking this, you’re not alone. The idea of finding cures for human diseases seems like such an enormous challenge that one individual person can feel insignificant. People are donating their spare computer cycles to Stanford’s Folding@home research project, walking for cures, and raising awareness on their blogs. But there must be more to do, some way to get research going faster.
At CureTogether, we believe the secrets to understanding and ultimately curing diseases are locked away inside the bodies of each person who has a condition. By asking patients about their experiences, we can put together a large collection of data and look for patterns. This data is called phenotypic data, or health data, and is complementary to the genotypic or genetic data that is starting to be available as well.
A diagram put together by Nature Reviews (Genetics) summarizes the areas of disease research below:
The relevant part to look at is the green box in the bottom left corner labeled “Association Studies”. This is where CureTogether comes in, and where each individual can help. Association studies basically look for associations, or connections, between different factors. Genome-wide association (GWA) studies have made some impressive discoveries by looking at genome sequences to statistically link genes to different diseases, including Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Crohn’s Disease. The same thing can be done with enough health data.
So far members can report symptoms, treatments, and possible causes of their conditions at CureTogether. In the coming months we will be adding health tracking to let members chart their progress and contribute their information anonymously to the aggregate pool of research data. With enough individuals coming together in this way, we can do association studies on a number of conditions and make valuable discoveries on the road to finding cures. You can make a difference!