How Big Data can Also Be Used to Save Lives

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Computers have long since surpassed the ability to make better judgments in life or death situations as compared to doctors. Researchers at Harvard Medical School are looking to replace a doctor’s intuition with machine’s intelligence to save patients from fatal side effects caused by drugs.

Shirley Pepke, a physicist who migrated to computational biology responded to cancer like a true scientist. She made use of big data and she is winning her battle from the deadly cancer. She underwent chemotherapy as most patients do, but she also did what no patient would think of doing- She started looking for useful data in her tumor. As tumors carry DNAs with various abnormalities, they become malignant and may resist certain drugs. With this information in hand, doctors can design effective and personalized treatments. Shirley decided to use the data that many years earlier, scientists had collected in a data bank called the Cancer Genome Atlas; it contained genetic sequences on around 400 ovarian tumors. Thus, to extract useful information Shirley needed a technique that can recognize patterns and thus she turned to Greg ver Steeg, a professor at the University of Southern California, who was working on an automated pattern-recognition technique called correlation explanation, or CorEx. With the information generated by CorEx she found out that a product called checkpoint inhibitor can help her and she succeeded.

So moral of the story is big data can not only be used for selling things, but it can also be used for saving lives. However, this will take some time because there are certain barriers such as the barrier of conventions or traditions. Those practicing medicine do not see it as an information processing discipline but think of it as a combination of intuitive leaps taken coupled with hard science. Doctors are not likely to be replaced by machines and algorithms, but their way of treating needs to be changed. It has to be more data driven and clinical trials need to be carried out properly.

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