Treeway Summer Challenge 2015 – Leiden Univ


The social impact of last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge was unprecedented. However a cure for the 300.000 people worldwide who are living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, remains out of reach. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It is a devastating disease leading to muscle weakness, difficulty in swallowing, speech, and eventually paralysis and death. 

Treeway is a Dutch biotechnology company with a mission to develop therapies to cure ALS. It was founded in 2012 by two ALS patients, who decided that current development strategies take too long for a disease with an average life expectancy of only three years and no treatment available. With a novel approach to drug development, Treeway seeks to change the pharmaceutical industry into a more efficient industry that will eventually be able to develop new drugs in a much shorter timespan. 

Eight PhD students selected for the Treeway Summer Challenge

In accordance with this ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, Treeway chose eight PhD students from around the world and with a variety of backgrounds to build their ALS Summer Challenge team, including two students from Leiden University. Magnus Munch is a Statistical Science for Life and Behavioural Sciences master’s student and Max Lagraauw, a Life Science & Technology graduate now finishing his PhD thesis at the Department of Biopharmaceutics within the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research (LACDR). 

The Treeway Challenge team will work with big data and try to develop new physiologically-based ALS models. Not just a final, validated ALS model which have been seen before but models and insights that have never been used in ALS or other diseases. With the help of the Treeway sponsors, the team will be able to link the pooled data to a variety of public databases by using semantic search engines to unravel undiscovered links.

The Treeway Summer Challenge started on June 21st (int. ALS Day) in New York with the (New) Amsterdam City Swim and will bring the candidates furthermore to Boston, Lisboa, Seville, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. In the first two weeks, the team has been working hard and attended some workshops and courses by for example Bayer and Google to help them make sense of the data.

Max Lagraauw, PhD at LACDR