Newswise — A team of researchers from Northeastern University and Harvard University has created a map summarizing disease associations expressed in a population of more than 30 million people. Using a database of insurance claims, the researchers have created the largest disease network database ever built.

Reflected by the Phenotypic Disease Network map, the study found that patients affected by diseases that are connected to other diseases tended to die sooner than those affected by less connected diseases.

"The use of networks to integrate different genetic, proteomic, and metabolic datasets has been proposed as a viable path toward elucidating the origins of specific diseases," said co-author Albert-László Barabási, distinguished professor of physics and director the Center for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University. "Our map enables users to explore disease associations graphically using an interactive tool and compare the strength of disease associations observed in populations of different genders and ethnicities."

The auhors have made the network data publicly available through an interactive website ( "Mapping disease networks using digital medical records dramatically change the way we understand diseases in general," said César A. Hidalgo, researcher at the Center for International Development at Harvard University and lead author of the study. "Disease networks can also be used to inform patients of diseases they may be at risk of developing based on the patient's medical history. This opens new potential applications and opportunities for digital medical records."

The new findings are published in a paper titled "A dynamic network approach for the stuffy of human phenotypes," which appears in the current issue of Public Library of Science (PLoS) Computational Biology.

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