|January 21, 2000||Volume 7, Number 9|
Bio-Informatics head publishes leading-edge neural research
By Lawrence McMahen
Dr. Alfonso Jurado is a man with many missions and he appears to be on the brink of accomplishing at least a couple of them in the near future.
Jurado, Director of the U of S College of Medicines Bio-Informatics Unit, and a clinical practitioner specializing in neuro-degenerative diseases of the elderly, has just published a breakthrough paper showing the value of computer analysis in neural disease detection.
He and colleagues published an article in the Fall 1999 Journal of Neuro-AIDS, using computer analysis to identify genetic markers associated with the 40 per cent of people with HIV who develop dementia, and markers associated with those AIDS patients who dont develop dementia.
"We used computer technology, did very stringent analysis based in statistics, and looked for only exclusive markers," Jurado says.
In the process, his use of a computer saved "years", of analysis that researchers previously did manually.
And Jurado says his work represents a worldwide "first", with computer "genotyping" showing these genetic markers differentiating AIDS with dementia and AIDS without it.
Specifically, "we are the first in the world to state the non-dementia markers, as well as the dementia markers."
He believes identifying these markers may lead to possible treatments for the dementia, using "novel neuroprotective" treatment.
Even more exciting for Jurado is the next round of research hes embarked on.
Based upon his AIDS and dementia findings, the Bio-Informatics director is following up a hot lead.
On a hunch, after Jurado had identified the genetic marker associated with dementia in people with AIDS, he looked at DNA samples of Alzheimers sufferers and he found a common element.
He has now spent a number of months researching the dementia markers in Alzheimers, Prions (Creutzeldt-Jakob) disease, mad cow disease, and others, and "we are about to submit a couple of papers of high significance to major journals".
So Jurado is on the verge of at least in part accomplishing a couple of his missions making headway in his passion for solving the riddle of neuro-degenerative diseases in the elderly, and proving the worth of "bio-informatics", or the use of computer analysis, in medical research.
But on other fronts, Jurado is very frustrated.
He believes the U of S and the health-care system dont recognize how important it is to adequately support this leading-edge bio-informatics work.
And he sees signs of much better support from elsewhere in Canada and the United States, which may some day force him to move in order to continue his work.
This problem has existed "ever since the Unit was down-sized by lack of funding, with a lack of understanding by administrators and a lack of available space I would say even neglect from the health-care system in general," Jurado says.
"I think there is significant shortsightedness in terms of [recognizing] novel initiatives that would add to the value of our academic community.
"We are already talking to other places for support, in order to continue the work started here," Jurado says.
For example, he says McGill University in Montreal is sending him requests to collaborate, and making offers of work-space there.
"We are searching for grant money, but we shouldnt need to worry so much and spend our time and energy begging all over the place.
"We should be able to spend it making the province a leader in the field."
Jurado, originally from Mexico, spent a number of years in Switzerland doing post-doctoral work in immunology. He also worked for the World Health Organization in Geneva.
After moving to Canada, he did his residency in internal medicine at Royal University Hospital.
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