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Interview with Art Wallace, MD PhD on Big Data and Medical Innovation


By Angel Zhou, Branson School


Mobile technologies, sensors, genome sequencing, and advances in analytic software now make it possible to capture vast amounts of information that could transform medicine. The question is: can Big Data make health care better?

In the upcoming Marin Science Seminar, "Big Data and Medical Innovation," Dr. Art Wallace, Chief of Anesthesia Service at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and a Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care at UCSF Medical Center, will discuss applications of Big Data in medicine and how Big Data has changed epidemiology, quality improvement, and drug discovery. Read the following interview to learn more about Dr. 

Wallace’s thoughts on Big Data and its impact on medical innovation.

Art Wallace, MD PhD

What is Big Data and what is its significance to medicine?  What makes Big Data different from other data that people work with in the healthcare industry?

Big Data is data that is acquired for other purposes that can be analyzed to understand processes, people, and systems. Big Data includes many things: cell phone records, super market purchase card records, credit card records, medical records, internet search terms, medication usage, hospital admissions, social security records, etc. This data can be used for epidemiology to identify associations between factors and outcomes.

Big Data gives additional power to identify factors associated with rare outcomes. I can now easily do a study in 1 million people using data collected for administrative purposes. Doing a study in 1 million patients used to be enormously expensive, now it just requires computer programming and epidemiologic analysis. Before Big Data, the cost of collecting data was prohibitive, so many studies could not be done. With Big Data, there is little to no cost of collecting the data, making the analysis the entire cost for large studies. The profoundly lower costs with Big Data techniques make studies that were previously impossible, possible at minimal cost.

How does Big Data impact professionals in the medical field? Can Big Data be used to improve healthcare?

We have identified factors associated with adverse outcomes, identified medication practices that are associated with increased mortality, identified medications that can reduce morbidity and mortality, and we have identified possible therapies for diseases that have no current therapy. We can reduce morbidity, mortality, cost, and assist in the development of new therapies.
  
Big Data can be used to reduce morbidity, mortality, cost, and improve efficiency. Big Data can be used to ask questions that are morally, politically, technically, socially, ethically, or legally impossible to answer with randomized trials. Big Data is being used to improve quality of life while lowering costs.

Describe how Big Data is reshaping the drug industry?

Big Data can be used to identify medications that reduce or increase risks. Post marketing testing can identify medications that have significant associated morbidity and mortality. For example, we identified a drug that increased mortality risk 5 fold (increased from 3 to 15% with drug use). This use of Big Data led to a medication being taken off the market. It had been used in Europe for 30 years, in the U.S. for 10 years, and it increased the risk of death from 3 to 15%. Big Data was used to identify a very serious risk to patients and led to the medication being taken off the market.

How will Big Data accelerate innovation in medicine?

Big Data will be used to identify new uses of medications. It will identify risk factors for morbidity and mortality. It will lead to further randomized trials.

What are the benefits and dangers of providing Big Data online as the "ever expanding cloud of information" becomes more accessible?

It is easy to identify people from their digital detritus. It is easy to identify very personal things about people from their data trails. Factors such as financial status, interests, sexual orientation, political beliefs, religious beliefs, health status, pre-existing medical conditions, drug and alcohol use, pregnancy status, and proclivities can all be assessed via Big Data. Big Data can be used to manipulate, track, and market to people. At the same time, Big Data can identify very serious risks to patients’ health. Scientific method is an approach; Big Data is a tool. Both can be used for good or bad purposes. Big Data is simply a new and extremely powerful scientific tool.   


Join us Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 to learn more about "Big Data and Medical Innovation" with Dr. Art Wallace from 7:30 - 8:30 PM Terra Linda High School, San Rafael in Room 207.

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Marin Science Seminar still has two high school student internship spaces available. Interns must be able to attend science seminars on select Wednesday evenings at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael. Interns arrive at 7 pm to set up, assist with the seminar, and can leave when the seminar is cleaned up by 8:45 pm. Specialties are also available for students interested in writing, photography, videography, and social media.

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