Biotech entrepreneur Leila Pirhaji could have had a wonderful career as a healthcare practitioner.
This is especially true in the case of fatty liver disease, an ailment that affects over 20 percent of the population globally. It has no treatment and it leads to liver cancer or liver failure. “So sequencing DNA alone doesn’t give us enough information to find effective therapeutics,” she tells us. Pirhaji goes onto talk about metabolites, molecules that are super small in size, and the body has a over 1,00,000 of them. Examples include cholesterol, fats, fructose and glucose. And understanding them is essential to discover the treatment of many diseases.
During her research, Pirhaji found that identifying all the metabolites in our body would take experiments that could stretch into decades and cost billions of dollars. So, she went on to create an AI platform just so that she could get things started. She says, “We leveraged the growth of bio-data and built a database of any existing data about metabolites and their interactions with other molecules. We combined all this data as a mega-network.”
That mega network was then mined to find how metabolic masses are connected to each other that result in disease. Owing to the way they are connected, scientists can infer what each metabolite mass is (For instance, 180 of glucose) and, discover how changes in glucose and other metabolites lead to a disease. “This novel understanding of disease mechanisms help us to discover effective therapeutics to target that,” she says.
Leila formed a start-up company to bring this technology to the market and impact people’s lives. Now her team at ReviveMed are working to discover therapeutics for major diseases that metabolites are key drivers for.