Spurred by the rapidly expanding use of in-home tests for “omic” – genomic and microbiomic – data for humans, pets, and even homes themselves, university researchers have begun tackling the difficult challenge of making the results interactive and understandable to non-experts.
While misinterpreting a pet’s lineage or the tracks of a cockroach across a kitchen countertop may or may not carry large financial consequences, scientific literature brims with examples of incorrect or misinterpreted omic home-test results that prompted expensive and unnecessary follow-up medical tests. Already, more than 5 million reports of genetic and microbiome (the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in and on our bodies) have been delivered as a result of such direct-to-consumer tests, and in some cases the emotional toll can be as consequential as the financial.
Supported by a new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, NYU Tandon School of Engineering Associate Professor Oded Nov, an expert in human-computer interaction, leads the research project with Associate Professor Orit Shaer of Wellesley College. The team is working with the Open Humans Foundation platform to fashion user studies en route to first-of-their-kind tools that he hopes industry will widely adopt.
The team is developing mobile apps to allow users to share results and curated medical news with others within their families or a community interested in the same disease, for example. In the process, the researchers plan to design and test best practices for communicating and interacting with complex genomic and biome data.
In addition, the researchers will build an UbiqOmic space to test volunteers’ understanding of data presentation and interaction tools. They will also conduct a longitudinal study in three households, whose members will self-monitor for allergens or undesired food ingredients – and perhaps discover how changing these ingredients affects their own microbiome and those of other people in the household. As part of NYU Tandon’s ITEST summer program supported by the NSF, Nov will engage New York City middle and high school students and teachers in the project.
Nov, a member of the NYU Tandon faculty in the Department of Technology Management and Innovation, has long focused on human-computer interaction and social computing. He holds degrees from Tel Aviv University, the London School of Economics, and Cambridge University. His many honors include a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, as well as grants from Google, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative.
The NSF Division of Information and Intelligent Systems granted $500,000 for the research, which NYU and Wellesley College share equally.