November 15, 2012, 8:00 AM —
Source: RambergMediaImages /Flickr
In my previous post, I focused on the opportunities of electronic health records (EHR). But all the information found in every EHR from around the world is dwarfed by the vast data repository of the human body.
Each of our cells contains gigabytes of data, some say at least 20 gigabytes, and our bodies contain trillions of cells. In one calculation, using a mere 1.5 GB per cell, it was calculated that we are all walking around with about 150 zettabytes of data inside of each of us. That’s more than 150 billion terabytes. Consider that the entire Internet was estimated by Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman -- and he might have some insight on that number -- to contain a mere 5 million terabytes, and you get the idea of the scale of big data inside you.
Analyzing big data at this level is daunting. In just one project, a scientist seeking to help stem cell researchers by "improving the indexing of gene expression in differentiated stem cells" required an average of 5,000 compute cores running 24x7 for one week to get through 78 terabytes of data. His successful computation "should radically accelerate researchers using stem cells to replicate diseases in the petri dish, to enable easier experimentation for potential treatments." Just a few years ago such research would not be possible, let alone accomplished within one week.
Going forward, our personal big data store will offer medical practitioners insight to craft more precise diagnoses and treatments tailored to our individual bodies. In fact, it’s not even something for the future. It's happening now.
Today, doctors in the U.K. and elsewhere are using a patient’s stem cells to treat osteonecrosis, where poor blood supply causes severe damage to hip bones. Before this breakthrough, patients endured painful and expensive hip-replacement surgery as the primary treatment. Without data-intensive stem-cell research, such as that mentioned above, modern treatments would not be possible and future ones unimaginable.
Also in the U.K., Lloydspharmacy has inked an agreement with Proteus Biomedical to offer “smart pills” that work with temporary sensor patches worn by users to gather data on drugs ingested. Not only can the smart drug and sensor track when a pill was taken, it can collect data on a range of physical activities from exercise to sleep patterns that can be used by a physician to effects and efficacy of a given treatment.
Smart pills and sensors are ideally suited to the growing population of seniors who often forget to take their medicine or take an overdose. Sensors can be linked to smartphones or other devices that can let users know they need to take their pills or that they’ve already done so. Mismanagement by seniors of their pill regimen costs billions a year in unnecessary hospitalization costs.
The enormous amounts of data our bodies contain hold secrets to longer life, and better health for each of us. All we need to do is access and analyze all that data.
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