Edmond Sun: Investigator unraveling mystery of COVID-19 genetic markers and virus susceptibility

Local genome researcher Daniel Brue investigates why some people are more susceptible to COVID-19 while others are not. As an inventor and the founder of General Genomics, he has established a group of people in an attempt to find more information and correlations between genetic markers and virus susceptibility of COVID-19.

Investigator unraveling mystery of COVID-19 genetic markers and virus susceptibility

The findings could potentially reveal effective methods of treatment against the virus.

“What we do know now is that there is a significant part of the population A-symptomatic to COVID-19,” said Brue, P.h.D. “So they are carriers, but they don’t know that they’re ill.”

Brue is part of a group whose focus is to increase the effectiveness and preventiveness of treatments and illnesses by warning people to understand what they may be susceptible to, based on their genetic information.

Brue said a large population of participants in companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com have been receiving reports about their genetic information.

“What I would like to track is how a disease effects people of different genetic dispositions,” Brue said.

A clearer picture of genetic markers linked to disease is forming from incoming information and volunteer participants. Brue correlates the effectiveness of treatments participants have received based on their genetic bands.

COVID-19 is becoming one of the best documented cases of a pandemic, and it is Brue’s hope that the group’s findings will apply to a bigger picture, triggering further scientific research of other disease processes as well.

“What I would want people to know is we have greater capacity to understand what is happening than we have ever had before,” Brue said. “If we didn’t take advantage of learning as much as we possibly can, we would be horribly remiss in not using data that we have on hand to try to improve people’s health care, and understand on the onset, what is the most effective treatment for those who are ill.”

The three inventors of the new program combine expertise in several disciplines. Ultimately they want to save lives.

Brue has an extensive background in physics and artificial intelligence/machine learning, and medical image processing. He earned his doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. Brue said he understands how sensors work and how to get the best information from them.

“What I know very well is how to extract information from measuring apparatuses that we’re using,” he said. 

Warren Gieck, of Calgary, Alberta, is an entrepreneur and industrial engineer, with experience in software development, artificial intelligence, robotics, mechatronics, and product development. 

“Our motivation is the suffering of our friends and society around us. And just as importantly, we are dads whose kids just want to go back to school,” Gieck said. “With extensive scientific and engineering expertise, we have built solutions using similar technologies for industrial applications, and we saw how we could help solve the uncertainty around the Covid-19 virus.

“Ultimately our goal is to allow people who are low risk to get back to their lives.”

A.J. Rosenthal of Midland, Texas, has a background in multi-disciplinary engineering solutions, nuclear engineering technology, and finance. Kyrie Cameron, attorney at Patterson + Sheridan, has assisted these inventors in filing their patent applications.   

“I want to figure out a way that we can better identify what people should be looking for in their own health care,” Brue said.

The goal is provide people a better understanding of how to take care of their personal health. By understanding individual risks, individuals would be able to provide care providers a better understanding of how they should be treated should they be in poor health, Brue said. As a result, physicians would have more concrete information to work with in patient care.

Brue said one of the worst aspects of what anyone goes through when they become sick is their uncertainty. A lot of people are concerned and scared of COVID-19.

“I have lived through enough personal losses to see how much the damage is on not just the person who’s ill, but their entire family around them,” Brue said.

His goal is to reduce anxiety by educating people about disease processes.

“It’s personally important to me,” Brue said.


Houston Chronicle: Midlander creates algorithm to predict likelihood of infection

Determination would be made using person’s genetic make-up, medical history

By Caitlin Randle, MRT.com/Midland Reporter-Telegram Published 9:11 pm CDT, Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Midland data scientist and his two partners have created an algorithm that uses a person’s genetic markers and medical history to predict someone’s likelihood of becoming infected with the coronavirus and suffering complications from it.

Midlander A.J. Rosenthal and his partners, Dan Brue of Oklahoma and Warren Gieck of Alberta, Canada, filed patents this week related to the algorithm.

Rosenthal said it could use a person’s genetic make-up in combination with various factors, such as their medical history and types of exposure they’ve had (i.e. a miner exposed to coal dust), to determine someone’s risk factor and assign them a correlating score.

“We’re describing potentially where a person would fall, give them a score, and that score allows them to either start going back to the workplace because they’re not going to succumb to the disease, or they won’t even be susceptible to it,” he said.

The algorithm would use the medical histories of those who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 to determine what markers could put a person at risk, Rosenthal said. He described inputting the data from past patients as “training the algorithm.”

The goal of this project is for the information to be widely accessible, Rosenthal said. He said the algorithm could potentially be on a website where a person could enter their medical information after signing a HIPPA privacy release.

“What we’re trying to do is if people want this – and we’re hoping they do – is to make it easier for them to feel comfortable and safe going back out,” he said. “Because they’ve now been locked in their houses for weeks … they don’t know if they’re going to get sick. They don’t know if they’re even susceptible to it.”

The algorithm could also be applied to other viruses and diseases, Rosenthal said, but the trio has chosen to focus on COVID-19 because there’s an immediate need.

The project’s success is contingent on partnerships with other entities – primarily, with medical providers who would give access to the medical histories of past COVID-19 patients. HIPPA laws prevent that data from being publicly available.

Rosenthal pointed to studies linking ACE2 receptors in the lungs to COVID-19 as evidence that a person’s DNA could be used to predict their risk of being infected. Some studies have found the coronavirus uses these receptors to infiltrate cells in the body.

“When the coronavirus attaches, it has a certain type of envelope that it attaches to,” Rosenthal said. “Your receptor on your lung, a lot of the coronavirus sticks to it … and from there, it propagates an infection.”

Some health entities worldwide have advised against using ibuprofen to treat COVID-19 because it’s thought to increase the number of ACE2 receptors in the body, but there’s no clear consensus among the scientific community about whether more of these receptors create a higher risk of contracting or having complications from the coronavirus.

Rosenthal said the algorithm could determine if certain combinations of medications and genetics were frequently present in those infected with the virus and serve as a guide to those with similar DNA who are also on those medications.

A former multi-disciplinary engineer in the U.S. Navy and at General Electric, Rosenthal currently works for an oil and gas company in Midland. He said he and his partners, who met working at GE, were inspired to take up this enterprise by their kids, who want to “go back to school and go to the mall and play baseball.”

“We’re just three dads. We just want our kids to have a normal life again,” Rosenthal said.

“Maybe these three dads can help the world,” he said. “The only thing we’ve got left to lose are our jobs or the economy.”