Big Data, Big Biology, and the ‘Tipping Point’ in Quantified Health: Takeaways from Xconomy’s On-the-Record Dinner

4/26/12Follow @bvbigelow

Two of the biggest trends in technology innovation are converging—and as they come together, there is a chance to accomplish something rare in San Diego. Something exponential.

One of these forces is “big data,” the ever-increasing capabilities of computers and analytic software to move from gigabytes to terabytes, petabytes, and beyond. The other is “big biology,” which encompasses a breathtaking array of fundamental breakthroughs in DNA sequencing, molecular diagnostics, genome biology, proteomics, and other “omics” technologies.

Each is an irresistible force in its own right, and they are coming together like tributaries at the confluence of “quantified health,” a new field with the potential to fundamentally change health care. What makes this combination so powerful is the sheer magnitude of ways that “health” can now be measured—and in the use of data analytics to mine information that was previously unattainable.

The new tools of molecular biology are making it much more practical to analyze a patient’s genome—to determine if a patient has a genetic predisposition, say, for diabetes or heart disease. Advances in molecular diagnostics are also making it easier to regularly measure the hundreds of thousands of molecule-size constituents that are produced through genetic activity. With data analytics, it’s feasible to compare and chart these millions of data points over time to detect early signs of disease long before any symptoms appear—or to compare the data from one patient with the data from millions of other patients to see how they compare on the bell curve of “normal.”

This combination of big biology with big data has already begun—and leads to what Lee Hood of the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology calls “P4 Medicine”—health care that is predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory. It is one reason why Larry Smarr, founding director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), has become a de facto evangelist for quantified health.

Larry Smarr

“Never in human history has something that is critical to human health gone down in cost by a factor of 1 million in a decade the way genomics has,” says Smarr, who is also a San Diego Xconomist. Combine this megatrend with advances in sensors and related technologies that are embedded in current-generation smart phones—-and the plummeting costs of data storage and cloud computing—and you have all the needed ingredients for a technology revolution in health care.

With Smarr’s help, Xconomy brought together some of the best minds in business, life sciences, and information technology for an “on-the-record” dinner discussion about the implications of quantified health, and what it might take to harness the power of this new river of information.

“The decade we are now moving into is going to be … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Abdallah Al-Hakim

    Great article and one that touches on a very important topic for Digital Health.

    Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto recently launched centre of personalized genomics and innovative medicine (CPGIM) which is aims to enables and promote the implementation of personalized health care approach to the diagnosis and treatment of hereditary diseases. The program aims to link the patients, physicians and researchers together to share date and disseminate information.

    It is all exciting work towards getting the most out of “big data” and “big biology”

    For more on CPGIM – http://innovativemedicine.ca/