Keiser receives $2.5 million to apply machine learning towards new therapies for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s

Computational biologist Michael Keiser, PhD, was recently awarded $2.5 million over five years to study neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and speed the development of new drug therapies for these diseases using machine learning.

Keiser is one of 17 investigators to be selected nationwide for the Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). These investigators are among the inaugural cohort of grantees in the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network.

The Neurodegeneration Challenge Network “brings together experimental scientists from diverse research fields, along with computational biologists and physicians, to understand the fundamental biology of neurodegenerative disorders,” according to the announcement of the award by CZI. “Their shared aim is to develop new strategies for the treatment and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.”

Keiser is a faculty member in the UCSF Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, with a joint appointment in the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. He is also a UCSF alumnus, having earned a PhD in bioinformatics in 2009 under the mentorship of Brian Shoichet, PhD.

Keiser uses computational approaches to predict and test the impact of new drug-like molecules on the networks of proteins that malfunction during disease. In particular, this early-career award will enable him to tackle proteinopathies—a category of neurodegenerative diseases, characterized by the abnormal accumulation of proteins inside the brain, that lead to age-related dementia.

“By harnessing machine learning approaches, we are better able to predict how a particular small molecule, which directly affects a single protein or even several at once, can ultimately influence the behavior of hundreds of proteins inside a cell,” said Keiser. “This funding will enable us to use these approaches to dig to the root of proteinopathies and fast-track promising drug candidates for eventual clinical testing.”

Other UCSF grantees in the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network include:

Kampmann also received a Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award; Kao, Seeley, Altschuler, and Wu collectively received a Collaborative Science Award.

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.