With a budget of 10 million euros and coordinated by Manuel Tena-Sempere, Empar Lurbe and Fernando Fernández-Aranda, researchers at the CIBER – Center for Networked Biomedical Research, the European project “EprObes“, which is the acronym for Obesity Prevention throughout life through identification of risk factors, prognosis and intervention in early stages” will address the public health problem of obesity and its context using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The use of AI is one of the newest aspects of the project, which incorporates data analysis and machine learning algorithms to design decision support tools for doctors and health professionals in the prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity. With a duration of 5 years, it brings together scientists from countries such as Germany, France, Denmark, Turkey, Poland, Belgium or Estonia.
In order to analyze the time series data of the sample cohorts and make predictions about the risk of developing obesity in a specific period, AI models will be used, such as those of artificial or recurrent neural networks or those of short-medium term extended memory. Àlex Bravo, a researcher specializing in Machine Learning, emphasizes that using these models, which are based on descriptive data such as age or gender, “will make it possible to predict obesity trajectories based on the probability that individuals are overweight or obese.”
For his part, Manuel Tena-Sempere, project coordinator and principal investigator at CIBEROBN and the University of Córdoba, points out that “Despite great research efforts, up to now, treatments for the most common forms of obesity have shown to have limited efficacy. Therefore, effective prevention strategies, especially in the early stages, are essential to avoid the full spectrum of metabolic complications caused by being overweight throughout life”.
To implement personalized measures against obesity and its comorbidities, the EprObes project aims to identify the risk and protective factors and the mechanisms that are at the base of excessive weight gain in critical periods of maturation of people, especially the periconceptional and gestational periods, and early childhood development and puberty/adolescence.
The determinants of obesity and its specificities
“Environmental compounds, family conditions, maternal metabolic state, fetal growth and epigenetic factors are determining factors of obesity, present from early stages of human development. Our project focuses on implementing preventive strategies from the first moments of life, with the aim of comprehensively addressing this problem”, says Fernando Fernández-Aranda, head of the Psychoneurobiology group of Eating Disorders and Addictive Behaviors at IDIBELL and clinical psychologist at Bellvitge University Hospital.
Likewise, the study is conceived from a comparative perspective between the sexes, which will allow a better understanding of how hormones, metabolism, gender roles, social disparities and other factors can interact and contribute specifically to obesity and its comorbidities in each sex.
The project also incorporates, in a transversal way, the analysis of psychological and socioeconomic factors, especially mental health and eating disorders as aspects that affect and increase the risk of obesity, a public health problem with a growing incidence in populations of developed and developing countries.
To better encompass the multi-causal phenomenon of obesity, and especially the crucial period of childhood, the EprObes project is divided into nine interconnected work packages, which include clinical and preclinical studies, mechanistic and molecular analyses, as well as the aforementioned use of bioinformatics and AI tools.
In any case, all the data that used in eprObes will be treated with the highest standards and implementing the applicable regulations at the European and national level for each participating entity.
The initiative, coordinated by the CIBER and its area of Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBEROBN), apart from the Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge (IDIBELL), will also have the participation of leading institutions in Spain such as, among others, the University of Córdoba (UCO), the Foundation for Biomedical Research of Córdoba (FIBICO), the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), or the University of Valencia (UVEG), in addition to 18 international organizations.