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New partnership helps Manchester researchers beat ‘information overload’

The Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) has launched a new partnership with a unique national service which filters the millions of pages of scientific data published worldwide every year.

To help scientists faced with 'information overload', the BRC has joined forces with the National Centre for Text Mining (NaCTeM), based at the University of Manchester. Text mining involves using advanced analysis and search tools to extract specific information from a wide range of scientific and medical sources. These can range from books, journal articles, news stories and conference papers to case studies, surveys and drug company data In addition to helping researchers looking at areas such as the connections between genes and diseases, the discovery of new drugs or predicting whether treatments will have side effects, text mining can also support doctors and nurses in making day to day decisions about patient treatment. Researchers will ultimately be able to find the best medicines and ways of delivering care to individual patients, known as 'personalised medicine'.

NaCTeM is led by Dr Sophia Ananiadou and is the only publicly funded national text mining centre in the world. It was set up in 2004 to support universities and other academic institutions, and has been very successful in attracting funding from industry, particularly major pharmaceutical companies, for customised text mining research. The system works like a kind of super search engine, identifying all material linked to the researcher's area of study and then narrowing it down to focus on key areas and automatically extract relevant nuggets of information.

Scientists have used automated text mining to discover that the drug Thalidomide, taken off the market 40 years ago because it caused birth defects, might be used to treat several other diseases safely. Researchers are now looking at whether Thalidomide's effect on the immune system may have benefits for people with conditions like leprosy and chronic hepatitis.

Welcoming the new collaboration, BRC Director Prof Phil Baker said: "Text mining has exciting applications for medicine. Conventional sifting of information can take weeks, and exciting new connections could potentially be missed. Medical research is also increasing interdisciplinary, including biology, chemistry, economics and other sciences. Being able to access information from other fields is a tremendous benefit and can help generate new ideas. Access to NaCTeM will be a real boost for our research teams, and a great incentive for new recruits."