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Jul 21, 2014

Using JMP Genomics to Understand Chronic Pain

Discovery,” the new name for the annual event formerly known as the JMP User Conference, seems like an appropriate moniker.

At yesterday’s opening session, I ran across conference attendees who are using interactive JMP software from SAS in some pretty amazing ways. There’s the greenhouse gas specialist from the University of North Carolina who is trying to create a carbon footprint for the Chapel Hill campus. There’s the statistician who is using JMP to control quality for a manufacturer of biotherapeutic products.

And there’s Susan Dorsey, the nurse-turned-PhD neuroscientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore who is using JMP Genomics, the customized JMP software package for biostatisticians and researchers, in her quest to ease the suffering of people who suffer with chronic pain. Dorsey, an assistant professor in the UM-Baltimore School of Nursing, describes chronic pain as an epidemic in the United States – a condition that affects 75 million people.

In a particularly cruel irony, some of the powerful drugs that extend life by decades for cancer patients and HIV/AIDS sufferers, among others, are themselves diminishing the quality of life because they leave behind pain that even morphine can’t control. This “peripheral neuropathy” also extends to patients with multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and other illnesses.

“You might cure the disease, but patients often have to come off the therapy because of the pain,” Dorsey explains. “So these are critical, critical problems.” Some patients won’t even report the pain, she added, for fear that they might be taken off the treatments that are keeping them alive.

So Dorsey, using JMP Genomics, is working to figure out how chronic pain mechanisms work in hopes of identifying new therapeutic targets. Dorsey and her team at UM-Baltimore have identified a particular gene in mice – she calls it Gene X for now – that appears to play a role in reducing the effectiveness of morphine to control pain. She is using mice as subjects because they share remarkable genetic similarities with humans.

Dorsey discovered JMP Genomics while she was looking for a replacement for another, more limited, genomics software package. She knew that the University of Maryland had a SAS license, so she asked for a demonstration of JMP Genomics. She now uses it for a variety of analyses, including exon, SNP and microarray. She said she likes its power, versatility and ease of use.

“You don’t have to be a whiz-bang programmer to get your answers,” she says about JMP Genomics. “It’s very visual but also very statistically accurate.”

Just the sort of technology that promotes discoveries – some of them potentially life-enhancing.