How Big Data And AI Could Cure Cancer

Big data and AI are tackling one of the biggest health problems of our time: cancer


It’s no secret than many consumer applications have begun taking advantage of big data and artificial intelligence (AI). However, what you may not know is that big data and AI are also going beyond consumer entertainment to unlock some truly amazing possibilities in the healthcare and cancer research fields.

Leveraging Big Data and AI in Healthcare

Merging AI and its capacity to learn with massive amounts of genetic data will transform the health industry. Physicians will be able to provide more personalized care and guide patients to healthier lifestyles. Pathway Genomics is already at the forefront of this technology , which has many applications.

The key to finding a cure to cancer may be through AI , but without research data to accompany it, it’s not of much use. Medical records are impossible to access without patient permission, and many people don’t know that their data could be useful. Access to mammograms, medical records and genetic tests could transform how scientists approach cancer research.

For data to be available for research, three crucial things need to happen:

  • Patients can contribute their data, including genetic tests, radiology images and other medical records, without confusion or barriers.
  • Prioritized funding for AI cancer research
  • The creation of data sets for all ethnicities

Big data could even benefit long-established research practices. For example, randomized cancer trials could benefit from AI and big data because better machine analysis of participant information could prevent selection bias and produce comparable groups.

Cancer Research, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

Collecting big data for cancer research may not make immediate sense - cancer is cancer, right? Not really. Scientists categorize cancer research by type - lung cancer, breast cancer and brain cancer - but within them, most research treats each type the same, and that’s a problem.

Consider breast cancer. People have dedicated a month to bringing awareness to the national landscape - the country is invested in a cure. About 12% of women in the US will develop breast cancer . Of those, between 5-10% develop it due to a genetic mutation, like BRCA 1 or 2. It’s all breast cancer, but genetic cancers act differently than other cases of breast cancer.

For instance, most women get breast cancer post-menopausal , and tumors tend to develop slowly, overtime. Cancers that are a result of the BRCA 1 or 2 genes act much differently - they grow fast and they hit women well before menopause. Once someone is diagnosed with BRCA-type cancer, treatment must be swift and aggressive.

Big data allows researchers to sort through these varying types of breast cancer and see patterns within those unique circumstances. For those with a genetic mutation like BRCA 1 or 2, big data may transform cancer research that, until recently, has not fully included their form of cancer - one that’s deadly, invasive and hits before menopause, unlike most breast cancer.

Hope for a Cure

For researchers to take a page out of the business play book is smart - and it’s something that could have a global impact. The tragedy of cancer is still its mystery. How some people manage to overcome it when others don’t, how some treatments are effective and others fail, and why it’s still pervasive are all questions big data could answer. 

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