TUE AM News: Industry experts discuss role of advanced computing in biotech; RentCafe study shows renter activity increasing in Milwaukee

— A panel of industry experts say that advanced computing techniques can solve some of the toughest problems in biotechnology, such as combing through massive datasets and modeling drug interactions. 

Shannon Bruse, co-founder and head of discovery for a biotech firm called Empirico, explained during a recent panel discussion that his company integrates computing at nearly every level of operation. The virtual event was hosted by UW-Madison’s Innovate Network and the Forward BIO Institute as part of Madison’s Forward Festival. 

“What we do is combine genetic data with health information from millions of individuals and we can learn about the effects of altered gene function and we can design drugs that mimic those human mutations,” Bruse said yesterday. “The problem is, the scale of the data we’re dealing with.” 

Because Empirico combines information from so many individuals and disease variants, straightforward analysis can lead to billions and even trillions of data points, making it nearly impossible for humans to understand the results at face value. But by applying machine learning models to organize the results, Bruse said his team can reduce those numbers to the thousands, making results much more accessible. 

“In the end, it still takes a human with domain expertise to make the call,” he said. “But that’s the way that our computing helps, because the scale of our data is just so massive.” 

Jalal Sulaiman, president and CEO of PROMISS Diagnostics in Wauwatosa, explained that artificial intelligence algorithms can help diagnosticians make connections between disease indicators that might be difficult to otherwise identify. 

“Because of that advanced computing, machine learning techniques, you are able to analyze such a large set of data and extract information and develop insights,” he said. 

Aside from parsing through enormous amounts of complex data, panelists also noted that advanced computing can model the way that different treatments will interact in a patient when given simultaneously. Joseph Grudzinski, co-founder of Voximetry and senior scientist in UW-Madison’s Department of Radiology, pointed to the example of radiopharmaceutical therapy and immunotherapy. 

He said new computing techniques could shed light on how biological targets for these therapies might differ or overlap. Without using some form of computing techniques, getting to this level of understanding could take years or even decades, he noted. 

“I think being able to use biocomputing to sort of model the biophysical drug interaction … could allow us to provide better understanding for how these combination therapies work, so that we have a better way of possibly combining them for safety and efficacy to allow for the best synergy possible,” Grudzinksi said. 

See more Forward Festival events being held this week: https://forwardfest.org/events/2021 

— The latest study from RentCafe shows renter activity increasing in Milwaukee, with 14 percent more activity in the first half of 2021 than in the same period of last year. 

That includes renters coming in from outside Wisconsin’s largest city, as well as existing residents moving to another location within the city. The survey shows the greatest increase was seen in the youngest generation of renters, with apartment applications by Gen-Z renters increasing 44 percent over numbers from last year. 

Applications increased by 3 percent for Gen-X renters and 4 percent for Baby Boomers, while applications decreased by 1 percent for Millennial renters in Milwaukee, the study shows. 

RentCafe included data from more than 2.5 million rental applications in its study, which includes findings for major metropolitan areas across the country. 

See more results here: https://www.rentcafe.com/blog/rental-market/market-snapshots/2021-renters-jumpstart-big-cities-surge-applications/ 

— The Village of Arena is receiving a $250,000 state grant from WEDC for the redevelopment of the former Arena Community Elementary School. 

Once the project is complete, the former school building will have 11 residential apartments and will also house the Arena Food Pantry and the Arena Historical Society. A business called Hardcore Tumbling and Gymnastics is currently leasing the gymnasium space, and will also have a space in the redeveloped building. 

A release from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation shows the school closed in June 2018 due to declining enrollment and a lack of funds. A North Carolina business called ACES Property Management acquired the property in May 2019, and will be donating part of the space to the local food pantry and historical society. 

Construction on the project began in June and tenants are expected to move in by December 2022, the release shows. 

See the release: https://wedc.org/blog/village-of-arena-receives-250000-state-grant-to-support-redevelopment-of-elementary-school/ 

— A survey of Dane County youth highlights changing trends in physical and mental health among teens amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 2021 Dane County Youth Assessment was completed by more than 27,000 students in seventh through 12th grade across 19 school districts in south-central Wisconsin. The survey has been conducted every three years since 1980 by the Dane County Youth Commission. 

“While we are seeing positive declines in bullying and vaping, we cannot ignore the emotional health concerns our young people report struggling with, particularly among female, LGBTQ+, and low-income youth,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

The survey found 7.6 percent of responding high school students have used electronic cigarettes, or vapes, in the past 30 days. That’s significantly lower than rates seen in prior years, which were 18.8 percent in 2018 and 16 percent in 2015. 

And 22.9 percent of high school youth reported drinking alcohol in the past 12 months, compared to 30.9 percent in 2018, 34.8 percent in 2015 and 43.1 percent in 2012. 

Meanwhile, 19.8 percent of 7th and 8th grade students and 11.6 percent of high school students reported being targeted by “some face-to-face bullying.” Those numbers are down from 48.9 percent and 35.7 percent respectively in 2018.

Although the survey documented lower levels of “antisocial behaviors” such as bullying that can often occur in-person, self-reported mental health issues such as anxiety and depression increased in the latest survey. 

It found 44 percent of female high school students reported “depressive symptoms,” which has increased from 34.2 percent in 2018, 30.3 percent in 2015 and 25.6 percent in 2012. 

And 64.6 percent of responding high school students who reported experiencing depression said they aren’t receiving mental health services. Overall, 20.6 percent of all surveyed high school youth reported receiving mental health services.

Also, youth who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, as well as those who are questioning their sexual orientation, all report feeling anxious “always or often” at much higher rates than youth who identify as heterosexual. 

See more survey results: https://www.wispolitics.com/2021/dane-county-2021-youth-survey-captures-shifting-trends-among-adolescents-during-covid-19-pandemic/ 


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