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Fan Zhang, PhD

Faculty Starter Grant in Translational Medicine, 2022 University of Colorado

Using Machine Learning to Develop Better Detection and Treatment Methods for Rheumatoid Arthritis Associated Lung Disease


Although interstitial lung disease (ILD), a common manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is detected in up to 60% of patients with RA, it is a complex condition to diagnose. By the time ILD is visible in a CT scan, it is often in an advanced state and difficult to treat. My research seeks to identify molecular phenotypes and biomarkers that could serve as diagnostic markers and potential treatment targets. Using machine learning — computer systems that use algorithms and statistical models to analyze and draw inferences from patterns in data — I plan to analyze millions of single-cell profiles from the joint and lung tissue of patients with RA and ILD to see whether there are common connections that could help predict development of ILD. Ultimately, completing this work will provide needed multi-disease and cross-tissue integrative machine-learning strategies that delineate promising targets for the joint-lung axis, which can be generalized to study the many manifestations of RA.

The PhRMA Foundation Research Starter Grant has tremendously boosted the establishment of my independent research programs in translational medicine. This award has encouraged me to strive for excellence in developing powerful computational tools for precision solutions to inflammatory conditions.