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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 February, 2004, 00:04 GMT
Software 'spots new treatments'
The software can scan thousands of papers in minutes
A computer programme designed to scan medical research papers could help find new uses for existing drugs.

The Iridescent programme, developed in the United States, is able to scan thousands of medical papers in minutes.

Scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas say it can pick up "hidden knowledge" in papers.

Writing in the journal Bioinformatics, they said the software has already found that a drug used to treat psychoses can also fight heart disease.

Extensive research

Thousands of research papers covering practically every aspect of medicine are published each year.

The US National Library of Medicine, which runs the public access research website Medline, receives about 500,000 new abstracts each year.

For humans to answer the same questions objectively and comprehensively could entail reading tens of thousands of papers
Dr Jonathan Wren,
Iridescent developer
Its database holds more than 12.7m individual papers from more than 4,600 journals.

These papers contain a vast amount of information on a wide range of diseases and potential treatments.

It would take a doctor working in cancer research, for instance, months or even years to review all the research in just one specific area.

Professor Harold Garner and Dr Jonathan Wren believe their software could help scientists find the answers they are looking for much more quickly.

According to the developers, Iridescent can "read" papers and identify patterns and links.

"This work is about teaching computers to 'read' the literature and make relevant associations so they can be summarised and scored for their potential relevance," said Dr Wren, who is now based at the University of Oklahoma.

"For humans to answer the same questions objectively and comprehensively could entail reading tens of thousands of papers."

The software has already assimilated every paper on Medline.

Professor Garner and Dr Wren have now set up a company, Etexx Biopharmaceuticals, which will try to find new uses for drugs that are already approved.

They have already shown that chlorpromazine, which is used to treat psychoses, could be used as a treatment for people with an enlarged heart.

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