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Big Data Is Making Medicine Personal

Could we see data allow medicine to become more personal?

21Mar

The use of big data in medicine is nothing new, we have seen it becoming more and more important across the world in recent years, but one area that few consider is how it could impact people on an individual level. This isn’t to say that it is going to help people with cancer to survive or to cure a huge number of other diseases, but having the ability to treat people in the best possible way for them.

Ironically, one of the ways this is being done is through the collection of huge amounts of data on as many people as possible. We have seen this with initiatives like the research partnership between DeepMind and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, where the AI company has collected thousands of scans of people’s eyes to help identify particular conditions, which is likely to help with diagnostics and treatments for other patients in the future.

This same approach can be taken to millions of people, which may allow organizations to tailor treatment to specific people with similar conditions.

For instance, somebody may be suffering from a specific type of cancer which somebody else with a similar background, physiology, and demographic has been previously cured of. An organization then has the opportunity to see what treatments worked with this similar person and this may give them a good indication of what could work best for their patient. As the number of cases successfully treated and the number of case studies that can be fed into the system are increased, the treatments can be improved and the personalization for each patient can become more detailed.

What may have started as ‘this treatment works best for males between 18-25’ could eventually become ‘this treatment works best for males between 18-25 who don’t smoke or drink, have a family history of high blood pressure, and have never previously broken any bones’. The ability to drill down further into a patient’s history then allows for increased personalization of treatments, making them more and more effective.

However, it is not only in treatments that data can help to personalize medicine, there are also some really strong results showing how data can impact how and when people receive treatment or diagnosis.

One of clearest progressions has been in the use of wearables and remote tracking for patients, with programmes like the work currently being undertaken by the Michael J Fox foundation. The charity has a number of different initiatives including wearables that track how Parkinson’s Disease impacts sufferers over long periods, rather than only when being monitored in a hospital. Through collecting information from thousands of participants it will allow doctors to get a clearer picture of how the disease impacts people on a day-to-day basis, allowing for increased personalization based on the results.

However, another initiative which the charity is also undertaking with Cynapsus Therapeutics and Intel Corporation, could have an even bigger impact. Those afflicted with Parkinson’s use the drug Cynapsus, which attempts to treat the symptoms of the disease and is currently in the third stage of clinical testing, before it is submitted to the FDA for approval.

Volunteers will use wearable technology, which is then uploaded to Intel through a smartphone, to identify whether the drug is working for them. In future this is may have a big impact on the latter stages of clinical trials, but the real potential it has will be in the testing itself.

If this technology could be used to test the effectiveness of a variety of drugs or treatment, combined with other data from a patient (like health conditions, demographic data, lifestyle etc) it could have a major impact on which treatments are given to which patients. It would also help pharmaceutical companies to create better drugs for specific people who may not react as positively to some of the options currently on the market.

With this kind of monitoring it also allows patients to receive treatments wherever they want, rather than being restricted to hospitals or doctors surgeries. Many people would rather receive treatment amongst their loved ones in a comfortable, non-stressful environment whilst doctors want to be constantly updated on the state of patients in their natural environment. Through data collection and wearable monitoring at home, patients have the option to receive treatment wherever they are and doctors are safe in the knowledge that their patients are being monitored in case something happens.

The use of data in healthcare is having a huge impact already, but the future looks even brighter. It is naturally quite an intimidating, scary, and uncomfortable thing for patients regardless of what they are being treated for, but through data’s ability for personalization, it may make it slightly more appealing for people.

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