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article imageEssential Science: Big data assists with personal health metrics

By Tim Sandle     May 13, 2019 in Science
Big data analytics can play a significant role in assessing human biology and health. But how significant? To assess the extent that digital data capture and analysis can assist scientists, a new study has assessed health data over several years.
The study comes from Stanford University School of Medicine, where researchers assessed a group of 109 people across the course of several years (some subjects were monitored for up to eight years). The scientists gathered data relating to human the biology, including information relating to ‘vital signs’.
Much of the data related to the cohorts genetic and molecular makeup. After assessing this, the researchers are starting to assemble information that could provide a new understanding of what ‘healthy’ means and how variations from the norm can signal initial signs of disease or general ill-health.
Dry blood spot test on an infant.
Dry blood spot test on an infant.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (CC BY 2.0)
Such is the interest in the new data that, according to Dr. Michael Snyder, this could represent a paradigm shift in how scientists assess data. With this, the research scientists states: “I would argue that the way medicine is practiced is deeply flawed and could be significantly improved through longitudinal monitoring of one’s personal health baseline. We generally study people when they’re sick, rarely when they’re healthy, and it means we don’t really know what ‘healthy’ looks like at an individual biochemical level.”
Essential health metrics
In order to gather data that can directly correlate to the 'healthy' state, the science team identified some 67 clinically actionable health metrics. These included high blood pressure, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, and early stage cancer detection.
Next, the researchers overlaid these health issues with wearable technologies, genome sequencing, the human microbiome, plus molecular profiling. This helped to provide a baseline for each study subject to the extent that each volunteer's data set provided an insight into their particular biological baseline.
Philips Minicare I-20
Enabling near patient blood testing in the acute care setting.
Philips Minicare I-20 Enabling near patient blood testing in the acute care setting.
With the longitudinal nature of the study, the researchers were able to track the baselines shifts over time. The researchers were also able to spot any signs of abnormalities that might indicate the development of disease.
Some study participants are helped in 'real time'
Some patients were able to be helped through the review of the data, according to Dr. Snyder: "We caught a lot of health issues because we noticed their delta, or their change from baseline. For instance, we caught nine people with diabetes as it was developing by continuously monitoring their glucose and insulin levels."
The inferences that can be drawn from this approach are that provided medics undertake advanced profiling reasonably frequently, this will identify clinically actionable information pertaining to the individual patient on a afar bigger scale. In other words, bringing big data analytics more fully into to healthcare.
Research paper
The research has been published in the journal Nature Medicine. The paper is titled "A longitudinal big data approach for precision health."
Essential Science
A doctor shows an x-ray of Abdelkhaleq and Abdelkarim's tiny bodies  which share a kidney and a...
A doctor shows an x-ray of Abdelkhaleq and Abdelkarim's tiny bodies, which share a kidney and a pair of legs but have separate hearts and lungs
Mohammed HUWAIS, AFP
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we saw how new research presented the first clinical results with CAL02 in patients suffering from severe pneumonia, the first cause of infectious mortality in the world.
The week before, we considered how the health of corals is important for ensuring the biodiversity of the oceans. The health of corals provides a key performance indicator of the health of the planet, especially in relation to climate change. A new digital mosaic map illustrates this importance.
More about big data, big data analytics, data analysis, Health, Medical
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