Illness and Big Data

Liam Wilson our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 4/24/2013 10:24 AM

Richard Barker is director of the Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Medical Innovation, Oxford. He states, 'Illness just became another big-data problem'.

Cameron was Alissa Lundfelt's first child, so initially she didn't realize anything was wrong. He would demand milk constantly, but she thought that wasn't unusual. But when his fingers and toes started to go cold, his eyes rolled back in his head and his skin turned grey, he was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. At five months old, he was the youngest person ever to receive this diagnosis in his home state of Alaska.

This meant testing his blood sugar every two to four hours and giving frequent insulin injections, since -- in Type 1 diabetics -- the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are attacked by the body's own immune system, stopping the production of insulin that the body needs.

But even with this regimen, Cameron didn't thrive. When he was two years old, Ian Glass, associate professor of paediatrics and medicine at the University of Washington, and visiting Alaska from Seattle, ordered a test. This revealed that Cameron's diabetes was caused by a mutation in the KCNJ11 gene. Lundfelt went online and read about a group of scientists who had discovered that, in this rare form of diabetes, the beta cells produced plenty of insulin, but it couldn't get out of the cells. All Cameron needed was to take a single pill three times a day to restore his glucose levels to normal.

So diabetes isn't just diabetes: it's a cluster of diseases with different causes and different remedies. This story is just a glimpse of a quiet medical revolution: from defining diseases by the symptoms they cause or the part of the body affected, to the underlying molecular mechanism.

Everything from the situation in the womb to the way someone lives their life can result in a set of molecular patterns that appear as symptoms, which often hides more than they reveal. 

The tools we have to power this revolution are being added to daily. We are testing cancers that arise in the skin, the colon and the lungs and finding that a proportion of all of them have mutations of the BRAF gene, suggesting they will all respond to the same medication. And often we can work backwards from different responses to a drug to find that superficially similar diseases have different mechanisms -- as in many autoimmune diseases, for example.It isn't just genetics that influence the existence of a disease, or the form that it takes. Only one of a pair of identical twins may have schizophrenia, for example. 

Everything from the situation in the womb to the way someone lives their life can result in a set of molecular patterns that appear as symptoms, which often hides more than they reveal.

This redefinition of disease will also set us a fascinating semantic challenge. Your doctor might tell you that your swollen joints are symptomatic of a TLR and IL-1R signalling pathway imbalance: or instead perhaps she will just say you have arthritis type 13-2. Or perhaps your doctor is not aware of this new precision medicine and simply says you've got rheumatoid arthritis. So when you search for "molecular mechanisms of rheumatoid arthritis", you find over 2,270,000 results.

We'll discover a lot about ourselves and our diseases from big data -- assessing the outcomes of different therapies and finding out in retrospect what works best for who. We will then match that against our gene sequences, which may be stored confidentially at birth. If Cameron Lundfelt had been born a few years later, his parents and doctors would perhaps have known before his symptoms had even appeared that he had monogenic diabetes type KCNJ11. And they would have known immediately what to do.


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MeasureCamp Berlin

MeasureCamp Berlin: A Preview

In preparation for this year's MeasureCamp Berlin, we sat down with Benjamin Bock, communications lead, to discuss what to expect, as well as his thoughts on the industry in general. Here's what he had to say: Can you explain MeasureCamp for people who haven’t been yet? MeasureCamp is an open, free-to-attend analytics 'un-conference' made by analytics professionals for analytics professionals (and everyone who wants to get there) around the globe. In that sense, it’s different to any conference you know of. Our schedule is created on the day of the event, and our speakers are fellow attendees. Listen to talks, give a talk, and discuss topics that really tickle your fancy. What can we expect at MeasureCamp Berlin this year? Let’s begin with what you can’t and never will expect at MeasureCamp Berlin: Sales pitch presentations. We’ve all been there… you are visiting a fancy, expensive conference and all you get is Heads of 'This n’ That' talking about what their team did, what they spent money on and that you should buy Product X to be as Data-driven as them (mind the cynicism). At MeasureCamp you can expect talks and discussion rounds by around 150 fellow experts, who all know the daily adventures of cleaning Data, setting up analytics or debugging tracking code or running mind-bending analysis first hand.  What is your best tip for someone that has never been at MeasureCamp before? Don’t rush it! MeasureCamp is about mingling with the analytics community as much as it is about the talks and discussion rounds. Pick a few talks that really interest you and use the rest of the day to get to know other attendees. Our awesome sponsors are also more than happy to talk to you. What is the best advice you got last year at MeasureCamp? On a personal level, I was able to get some really good advice when it came to data privacy topics. GDPR was still fairly fresh and nobody really knew if what they had done was actually enough to not get into trouble. That’s the kind of advice you only get if you have the chance to talk to other professionals face to face. On another note, what are the most sought-after skills and technologies currently used? I can only speak of my experience here. On a hard skill level and depending on the individual role, you need a solid understanding of web technologies (JavaScript, HTML, CSS) and tag managing systems to be able to implement tracking (plus some knowledge in mobile development when your focus lies on apps). When it comes to analysing and visualising Data, you should understand the tool you are working with and its underlying Data-structures. Being able to retrieve tool-agnostic Data with SQL and running more sophisticated calculations (e.g. with Python) has become more and more important over the last few years. But there are some softer skills, that should not be overlooked as well. As an analytics professional, you should never assume that your knowledge and language are common ground. You need to be a strong communicator, who is able to explain complicated concepts broken down to the absolute basics. In your opinion, what will be the biggest challenge in digital analytics in the next year? Two weeks ago, I would have answered “bringing web and app Data together”. Now that we know Google is working on that topic, it’s still a challenge, but one I am happy to tackle in the coming year. Digital Analytics is constantly changing. What do you expect to be the most talked about topic at MeasureCamp this year? As a Tracking Specialist with a focus on Google products, I’d love to hear some talks about Google Tag Manager Custom Templates. But my top guess is, that the newly released Apps and Web properties beta for Google Analytics will be the talk of the hour. MeasureCamp Berlin is an open and free-to-attend 'un-conference', taking place this year on the 28th of September. The final batch of tickets will be released on the 21st of August at 03:00 PM (CEST). Click here for more information and to get hold of your place. 

Where Tech Meets Tradition

Where Tech Meets Tradition

If you’re lamenting the decline of handmade traditional products, cast your cares aside. There’s a new Sheriff in town and its name is, Tech. Just a generation ago, children would leave the farm or the family business, go to school, and then move on to make their place in the world doing their own thing. Away from family.  Today, the landscape has changed and those who have left are coming home. But this time, they’re bringing technology with them to help make things more efficient and more productive. Is Tech-Assisted Still Handmade? In a word, yes. Artists still make things “from scratch”, except now technologies allow them to not only see their vision in real-time, but their customers, too. Have you ever wondered what the image in your head might look like on paper or in metal? What about the design of prosthetic arms and healthcare devices by 3D printers? You’re still designing, creating.  But just like any new technology, there’s still a learning curve. Even for cutting-edge craftspeople who find that sometimes, the line between craftsmanship and high-tech creativity may be a bit of a blur. Not to mention the expense for either the equipment required or being able to offer art using traditional tools at technology-assisted prices. Somewhere between the two, there is a trade-off. It’s up to the individual to determine where and what that trade-off is. Life in the Creative Economy One of Banksy’s paintings shredded itself upon purchase at an auction recently. AI is making music and writing books. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Blockchain all have their place in the creative economy from immersive entertainment to efficient manufacturing processes. Each of these touches the way we live now. In a joint study between McKinsey and the World Economic Forum, 'Creative Disruption: The impact of emerging technologies on the creative economy', the organisations broke down the various technologies used in the creative economy and how they’re driving change. For example: AI is being used to distill user preferences when it comes to curating movies and music. The Associated Press has used AI to free up reporters’ time and the Washington Post has created a tool to help it generate up to 70 articles a month, many stories of which they wouldn’t have otherwise dedicated staff.Machine Learning has begun to create original content. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have come together as a new medium to help move people to get up, get active, and go play whether it’s a stroll through a virtual art gallery or watching your children play at the playground.  Where else might immersive media play out? Content today could help tell humanitarian stories or offer work-place diversity training. But back to the artisan handicrafts.  Artistry with technology Whilst publishing firms may be looking to use AI to redefine the creative economy, they are not alone. Other artists utilising these technologies include:  SculptorsDigital artistsPaintersJewellery makersBourbon distillers America’s oldest distiller has gotten on the technology bandwagon and while there is no rushing good Bourbon, but you can manage the process more efficiently. They’ve even taken things a step further and have created an app for aficionados to follow along in the process. Talk about crafted and curated for individual tastes and transparency. It may seem almost self-explanatory to note how other artisans are using technology. But what about distilleries? What are they doing? They’re creating efficiency by: Adding IoT sensors for Data Analytics collection Adding RFID tags to their barrels Creating experimental ageing warehouses (AR, anyone?) to refine their craft. Don’t worry, though. These changes won’t affect the spirit itself. After all, according to Mr. Wheatley, Master Distiller, “There’s no way to cheat mother nature or father time.” Ultimately, the idea is to not only understand the history behind the process, but to make it more efficient and repeatable. A way to preserve the processes of the past while using the advances of the present with an eye to the future. If you’re interested in using Data & Analytics to drive creativity, we may have a role for you. Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch with one of our expect consultants to find out more. 

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