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Partek, Kennedy Krieger Institute to Develop Analysis Tools for Neurological Disorders

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Partek said this week that is teaming up with the Kennedy Krieger Institute to develop commercial software for identifying and analyzing the chromosomal abnormalities that underlie autism spectrum disorder and mental disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The collaborators have received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, which they will use to develop new capabilities that will be sold as part of Partek Flow, Partek’s flagship software for microarray and next-generation sequence data analysis. The software includes workflows for analyzing gene expression, microRNA expression, allele-specific copy number, trio analysis, ChIP-Seq, RNA-Seq, qPCR data, and more.

The ultimate goal of the study is to develop a diagnostic test that can identify individuals with ASD during infancy. Earlier diagnosis will allow treatment to be started sooner when it can best improve cognitive and social skills long term. The partners also believe that these tools could help physicians diagnose and treat mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in adults earlier then they currently can.

Tom Downey, Partek’s president, told BioInform in an email that if the partners succeed in developing a test, Partek plans to market a separate software product that encapsulates the analysis workflows it is currently developing with Kennedy Krieger for Partek Flow, he said.

This project marks the second time that Kennedy Krieger and Partek will work together. Previously, the two co-developed a mathematical method for analyzing genetic distinctions between individuals that uses two commonly used genotype association approaches.

These tools are useful for studying “genetic relatedness and chromosomal changes, including those that occur in a variety of human diseases,” Downey said.

The current project will build on these earlier research efforts. Downey explained that the researchers will develop a method of “measur[ing] … genetic relatedness between two individuals based on SNP information from microarrays or NGS.”

They’ll then apply these methods to whole exome sequence data from individuals with autism obtained from dbGaP, as well as SNP and whole genome or exome sequences from families where at least one child is diagnosed with autism, he said.

Future Plans

Looking ahead, Partek’s Downey said his company intends to develop additional tools for diagnostics, cloud computing, and mobile touch screen devices.

The company also appears to be holding its own in the market place. Downey said that last year, Partek recorded double-digit revenue growth.

“There are a lot of new companies starting up recently so the space is crowded, but we have been there before … and we think we know how to navigate this environment successfully,” he said.

He also believes the partnership Kennedy Krieger will benefit the company’s customers.

“This is a good fit because anyone doing GWAS and linkage analysis studies should know any unknown familial relationships that exist in the study population,” he told BioInform.

Furthermore, it will “allow us to improve the analysis workflows that either already exist in our software or are planned in future versions,” he said.

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