- A custom-produced pill
engineered for your unique genetic makeup, designed to fight the exact
genotype of cancer in your metabolism.
- A living avatar
incorporating a genetic replica of your cancer, allowing tests to be
conducted on the avatar before real-world application.
- Differentiating between Munchausen Syndrome and domestic abuse by collecting data
on a patient from various parts of a health system.
None of the above is fiction, but an emerging reality - and they
are the tip of the iceberg of innovations and discoveries emerging from an
unexpected source: Big Data. Like so many other medical advances today, these
are examples of how hugely powerful computer processing and analyzing vast
amounts of data are changing the way healthcare is conducted and administered.
“Genome testing of cancer is critical because the disease is
driven by genetic mutations,” said Ya’ara Goldschmidt, leader of IBM’s Healthcare
Analytics work at the company’s Research
lab in Haifa, Israel. “That’s why a great deal of
the genomics work that has been done in the past decade focuses on the
sequencing of this particular disease.”
Goldschmidt was speaking at the conclusion of
two days of workshops discussing clinical genomic analysis and medical informatics innovations that
brought together a full mix of academia, industry, health providers and
policymakers from Israel’s healthcare ecosystem, as well as from abroad.
“With the enormous amounts of genomic data available today, the
challenge is to analyze it methodically to better understand and control
disease, ultimately providing treatment recommendations at the point of care.
With the technological breakthroughs of the last few years and sequencing costs
dropping rapidly, today we can do things we couldn't have imagined just a
decade ago,” said Michal Rosen-Zvi, Senior Manager of Analytics at IBM Research
Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the availability of
data collected in the practice of healthcare. Analyzed properly, these data
(known as real world evidence or RWE) are
transforming healthcare for everyone, from providers to practitioners to
patients. IBM's Haifa lab is playing a leading role – both in the analysis
itself, and in bringing players together to engage in dialog and the exchange
Scientists at the lab have developed decision support solutions that
blend cloud, and mobile technologies with advanced analytics to gather, manage,
analyze, and visualize data on different kinds of cancer and disease. These technologies include machine learning
to infer the complex associations
between genetic factors, demographic data, disease progression, and treatment
“Even the policymakers are conscious of the tremendous benefit we
can derive from data analysis,” Rosen-Zvi said. “The legal and ethical
obstacles that obstructed progress are slowly being resolved, and this is
allowing us to make headway. The fact that the head of Israel’s Ministry of
Health attended the event illustrates the legislature's awareness.”
A keynote presented by Isaac Kohane of Harvard Medical School
explained how data analysis of patients “bouncing around” (or constantly
checking into hospitals with a variety of issues) a health system can pinpoint
likely domestic abuse. He also explained how medical informatics could have identified
the dangers of the painkilling drug Vioxx by collecting information about heart attacks
from different hospitals earlier on. The
drug was removed from the market after clinical studies.
“It's imperative that we improve data sharing among all partners
in our health systems,” said IBM's Ranit Aharonov, who organized the Genomic
Analysis Workshop with the Safra Center for Bioinformatics at Tel Aviv
University. “Technological barriers exist, as well as legal, and of course,
commercial. Drug companies, for example, spend enormous sums on research so
they're not enthusiastic about sharing their data freely. But even they are
recognizing that improved data exchange is for their benefit too.”
Among the many presentations, Fresenius Medical Care, the world's
largest integrated provider of products and services for people undergoing
dialysis, explained how they gather data about alternating-day visits of their
dialysis patients. Dozens of factors in the data are analyzed and processed,
then guidelines are provided to the attending physician during each subsequent
patient visit. Studies showed that when physicians adhere to the guidelines,
patient outcome is improved.
Prof. David Sidransky of Johns Hopkins University explained how
human cancer cells are transferred to a mouse - a process called xenografting - allowing genetic testing to be conducted without harming the
patient. When the correct formula is found to counter that particular cancer,
it can be administered to the patient.
“In past gatherings, we'd
talk about what it will be possible to do in the future,” Rosen-Zvi said. “But
these two days showed us that the future is already here. The data is now
available and we've begun using it to improve healthcare for everyone.”
Many of the current IBM healthcare advances address chronic care
and cancer because of its potential impact on society. With new possibilities for genomic sequencing,
cognitive computing and other analytics technologies, IBM is providing decision
support to enable more reliable diagnosis and care plan, including treatment
options. The company is also working with healthcare partners across the globe
on exciting technologies for medical training and other chronic-care areas,
such as diabetes, heart disease and mental health.
Labels: analytics, clinical genomics, dialysis, healthcare, IBM Research - Haifa, medical informatics, real world evidence, xenografting