As vast troves of health data accumulate because of wearable technologies, genome sequencing and an increased interest from patients in monitoring their own health, scientists and doctors face a challenge: how to get this data into the hands of those who need it the most ¾ health care professionals, doctors and a growing list of researchers applying new technologies to patient care.
This challenge was explored by several speakers at the School of Medicine’s Big Data in Precision Health Conference, which ran May 23-24 at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. Speakers from academia, government and industry shared lessons on wrangling immense data sets to develop useable, actionable solutions in health care and new lines of research.
“We’ve translated fundamental discoveries into advances in therapeutics, and we’ll continue to do that,” said medical school Dean Lloyd Minor, MD. “But now we also have the unique opportunity to make discoveries not necessarily based on mechanistic analyses, but on deriving information from vast treasure troves of data that already exist …. That’s really the power of big data.”
Keynote speaker Eric Dishman, director of the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us research program, explained the program’s mission: to gather health data from more than 1 million people in the United States to improve and accelerate health research and care.
While describing the aims of the program, Dishman related the story of his diagnosis, at age 19, with a rare form of kidney cancer. Doctors who saw the diagnosis extrapolated information from the average population of people who had his disease, most of whom were ages 65 to 70. He was told he had nine months to live. “It was a wake-up call to me,” said Dishman, who is now 50. “Everyone is doing the best they can with the data they have, but it doesn’t mean that’s the truth for any given individual.”
Bringing precision health to the masses
The morning session of May 23 focused on questions about the body’s transition from health to disease. Susie Spielman, director of strategic initiatives for Stanford’s Department of Radiology, is a program leader for Project Baseline, a collaboration between Stanford, Duke and Verily that aims to map human health in unprecedented detail. She led off the session, detailing the project’s goal of analyzing 10,000 individuals’ health data to answer a question that’s key to nearly all precision health research efforts: How do you define “normal” for any given individual?