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Researchers Study Chronic Illnesses To Predict Future Health

Louisa Jonas
Texas Public Radio
Adel Alaeddini, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UTSA

What if scientists could predict what future diseases people might get based on the current diseases they have?  Much like Amazon trying to guess what products you’ll like based on what you’re currently browsing, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio and the VA Hospital are using data analysis to predict the development of chronic disease.

It makes sense that Adel Alaeddini is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at UTSA. Because when he talks about his latest research in chronic disease, he relates it to cars. He says if you run yours for too long, you may have problems, like say with the transmission.

"This is some sort of degradation mechanism, which is very similar to chronic disease. If you run under this condition and don’t take care of that, it can induce some new problems, for example, it can put some extra stress on your engine and power train. And this is exactly like a chronic condition. You have one chronic condition;  if you don’t take care of that, it can lead to another—it can lead to another," Alaeddini said.

Alaeddini and his team just received over $400,000 to study the medical records of more than 10,000 patients from the VA hospital over the past 14 years. They’ll be looking at the interplay of 29 chronic diseases, which hasn’t been done before.

Dr. Carlos Jaramillo is a physical medicine rehabilitation specialist and a staff physician at the VA. He says ideally the data they gather might eventually lead to disease prevention.

"If you have say condition A and B, it may not be expected to end up with condition Y. If we are able to develop a risk calculator, or an understanding that a patient with conditions A and B are at 30 percent, 40 percent risk of developing condition Y—whereas we wouldn’t have expected that before. Now maybe we can intervene and prevent that condition Y," Jaramillo said.

The chronic diseases Alaeddini and Dr. Jaramillo are researching account for over 70 percent of health care expenditures in the United States.