Stories about: big data

A banquet of tools for health tech innovators

Tools-Shutterstock-donatas1205-croppedWant to hack something in medicine? Vendors are increasingly eager to contribute their tools to problem-solving teams, like those who will gather November 14 for Boston Children’s Hospital’s Hacking Pediatrics. Seeing an array of tools presented at a showcase at Boston Children’s last week, I felt excited about the possibilities ahead.

Here are a few tools that can help innovators improve health care for patients, caregivers and providers.

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Bioinformatics, big data and putting the ‘count’ in accountable care

Tally_marks_counting_visitors-Wikimedia CommonsWhen you go into Netflix to choose a movie or Amazon to buy a book, they’re ready with proactive suggestions for your next purchase, based on your past history. Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, would like to see something similar happening in medicine, where today, patients often find themselves repeating their medical history “again and again to every provider,” as Kohane recently told Harvard Medicine.

“Medicine as a whole is a knowledge-processing business that increasingly is taking large amounts of data and then, in theory, bringing that information to the point of care so that doctor and patient have a maximally informed visit,” says Kohane, chair of informatics at Boston Children’s Hospital and co-director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School.

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What’s the big deal about big data?

Paul Solman Big Data data analytics health care

To kick off the final panel of the Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2014, moderator Paul Solman (above), business and economics correspondent for PBS Newshour, launched straight into the question: What are we in healthcare doing with big data, and what should we be doing with it?

John Brownstein, PhD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Computational Epidemiology Group and co-founder of HealthMap, said big data has had a significant positive effect on his group’s work. By incorporating social media into their data sets, he noted, they have been able to draw conclusions about large-scale infectious diseases in a matter of weeks.

Sachin Jain, MD, MBA, chief medical Information and innovation officer at Merck, took the role of devil’s advocate, making contrarian points about the “big data revolution.” “We’re not doing enough small data,” he said. “Everyone’s talking about predictive analytics, but they’re not doing basic analytics at the point of care.”

“Why can’t big data inform patient care at the point of care?” retorted panelist Joy Keeler Tobin, chief of health informatics at MITRE.

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Big data, big pharma and you. All of you.

Global Pediatric Innovation Summit Awards big dataWhere is the next generation of therapeutic innovations going to come from? Population-level genomic studies? The fitness trackers on everyone’s wrist? Mining electronic medical records? People’s tweets, Yelps and Facebook posts?

How about all of the above?

What all of these things have in common is data. Lots of it. Some of it represents kinds of data that didn’t exist 5 or 10 years ago, but all of it is slowly beginning to fuel the pharma sector’s efforts to create the next blockbuster drug or targeted therapeutic.

At least, it should be.

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Pathway(s) to a transparent future for clinical trial data

Medicine on a keyboard - clinical trial data.Ed. note: This is the second in a two-part series on making clinical trial data more transparent. Click here for part 1.

To grossly oversimplify, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who want to see data from clinical trials made widely and freely available, and those who would rather have the data restricted for privacy or business reasons. And as we noted in our last post, there are valid arguments to be made on both sides.

But is there a way to balance the benefits of openness and the safety of confidentiality?

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Raising the veil on clinical trial data

clinical_trial_data_shutterstock_171501788Ed. note: This is the first in a two- part series on making clinical trial data more transparent. Click here for part 2.

2013 was the year when big data became, well, big. Everyone from investment companies to public utilities to security agencies—including medical researchers—are now clamoring for as much data on as many subjects and topics as they can get their digital hands on.

But while data in other fields are becoming ever more open, clinical trial data—especially from corporate-sponsored trials—are relatively hard for medical researchers to obtain.

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Think you have strep? Answer two questions and check the big data

shutterstock_141722230Do you have a fever?

Do you have a cough?

If you’re sitting at home with a sore throat, your answers to those two questions could be enough to tell whether you should see a doctor for a strep test, thanks to a new risk measure created by Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, and Andrew Fine, MD, MPH, at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Called a “home score,” the measure combines the two questions above, your age, and data on the level of strep activity in your geographic area. The basic idea is that your symptoms, plus the big picture of what’s happening in your neighborhood, is a strong enough predictor to for you to go to the doctor for a throat swab.

Thought it’s just a research tool for now, if it were it were packaged into an app and fed the right data (localized strep test results from a health center or medical testing company, for example), the home score could allow someone with a sore throat to make an informed decision about whether they should consider going to the doctor.

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Could “jumping genes” contribute to cancer?

Transposons, or "jumping" genes, helped our cells evolve, but they might also help cancer develop. (Evil Erin/Flickr)

Our cells’ nuclei aren’t exactly what you’d call calm, quiet places. They’re more like busy city squares, filled with a constant bustle of activity: DNA folds and unfolds, proteins zip in and out to read genes and tag histones and whole chromosomes duplicate themselves while the cell preps for its next round of division.

Now add one more ingredient to this mix: genes that don’t sit still. Our genome is full of what are called transposons, the remnants of ancient viruses that bound themselves within our DNA over evolutionary time. Transposons pretty much do just one thing—copy and insert themselves all over the genome, cutting in on other genes like suitors at a debutantes’ ball.

You might think that having pieces of DNA randomly jumping into and out of genes wouldn’t be a very good thing. And you’d be right: members of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Informatics Program (CHIP) recently reported in Science the first evidence that transposons may directly contribute to the development of some cancers. But the story isn’t that simple.

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