A team of scientists has launched an international search to find ‘superhumans’.

The researchers hope to track down people with rare phenotypes – for example, people who are somehow protected from disease or whose skin stretches a great deal or heals very quickly.

They hope studying these people could eventually help them to find treatments, or even cures, for severe diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

They believe it could also help them find new treatments for diabetes, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and asthma.

The project, Innovation Challenge, has been launched by UCB, a global pharmaceutical company.

Professor Dame Kay Davies, Director of the MRC Functional Genomics Unit at the University of Oxford said: ‘This is an innovative approach to developing new medicines which potentially holds much promise. 

‘Traditionally, finding individuals and communities that possess medically interesting phenotypes has proved difficult.

‘With the ‘Innovation Challenge’, UCB hopes to harness the power of the internet to create a global super-network allowing them to identify people who have unique characteristics.

‘This could provide a useful head start in identifying new areas of medical research.’

UCB has partnered with problem solving experts InnoCentive, to develop and launch the ‘Innovation Challenge’.

The company hopes working with problem solvers will help them to open new avenues of scientific research and development to eventually improve patient outcomes.

Describing the online challenge from a patient perspective, Alastair Kent, Director of the Genetic Alliance UK, said: ‘The Genetic Alliance UK, supports high quality biomedical research targeted at serious unmet needs and we believe that those who participate in this challenge could be helping people who are affected by disease.

‘We are encouraging people to enter the challenge because without active participation we may miss the genetic key to solving some of the world’s most difficult to treat illnesses.’

The company is asking potential entrants to describe their interesting or rare characteristic on an online form which is available until midnight on February 20.

They say the best submission will receive an award of US $10,000 (N1,627,800).

Additionally, bonus awards – no smaller than US $1,000 (N162,780) – will be paid to entrants who the judges feel submitted an especially interesting or relevant entry.

In order to be eligible for an award, submissions must describe phenotypes that can be studied to provide information useful in the development of new disease prevention strategies.

However, on this occasion, they will not actually be studied – the researchers are testing the idea of finding research subjects in this way to see whether it is effective.

If they discover that they do get a selection of interesting and valid submissions, then they could use the tactic in future when looking for people to study.

Additional information about the UCB ‘Innovation Challenge’ and entry forms are available online at www.ucbinnovationchallenge.com