[Updated 8/01/14 1:59 pm. See below.] Big Data is everywhere, and one Houston health IT startup says its software can help clinicians and researchers better interpret all the numbers—in color.
Data is Beautiful Solutions, or DiBS, is a Rice University startup focused on making more useful versions of the “heat maps” used by healthcare researchers to visualize data on patient demographics, disease, and possible treatment options. And DiBS’ first product, called BioWheel, can create maps that are customizable and dynamic, meaning they can easily be updated as new information is added to the data stream.
“We came up with a new way of looking at very high multi-dimensional data in a raw form that is very interactive,” says Amina Qutub, co-founder of DiBS and an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University. “Ways to understand the data deluge have not caught up with the amount of data out there. DiBS gives you a way to visualize and compartmentalize your raw data. We let the data speak for itself.”
Qutub, along with her co-founders Alex Bisberg, a Rice undergrad, and Wendy Hu, a Rice graduate student, will join colleagues from 12 other startups in a joint demo day next month. Some of the teams, including DiBS, are part of Rice’s Owlspark student accelerator. They’ll be joined by student entrepreneurs at University of Houston’s RedLabs, some of whom we have profiled in two previous Startup Summer School stories.
Currently, life sciences researchers tend to hand off data to bioinformatics specialists who create custom heat maps according to what sorts of answers researchers are seeking from a data set. “They have to create a new programming tool each time and hardcode the colors and the subjects,” Bisberg says. “This could take four to five weeks.”
BioWheel, in comparison, could create the same visualizations in minutes, he added.
The quality of heat maps is a hot topic right now in bioinformatics, says Erin Fox, an epidemiologist and an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
“The problem with heat maps that I’m exposed to is they’re static, a bunch of pretty colors on a page,” she says. “This could be a handy tool. I work with a lot of physicians, who are not usually trained in statistics.”
Using the more dynamic heat maps created by BioWheel could make it easier to share and summarize complex lab data. “I work with surgeons and they’re usually very visual people,” Fox added.
Fox has spoken with the DiBS founders about helping them with a pilot study of the software. (The entrepreneurs are also meeting next week with the staff of Lynda Chin, chair of the department of genomic medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and an Xconomist.)
The upshot, founders say, is that visualizing reams of healthcare data in more dynamic ways can lead to better patient care.
[More information on other software providers.] There are other companies with software that can create heat maps such as SAS, Tableau, and Circos. Qutub says she and the co-founders are working so that DiBS develops software that will have even more user interactivity that what’s currently available on the market.
DiBS is licensing the software from Rice and has five patents pending, Qutub says. The founders will begin beta-testing next month with the aim of eventually selling individual software subscriptions for between $100 and $200 a year. They have bootstrapped the company since founding it just two months ago.
Qutub says she and her co-founders came up with the idea for the startup through data analysis work she and the co-founders were doing as part of the Dream competition—which stands for Dialogue on Reverse Engineering Assessment and Methods—an international crowd-sourced contest to improve the analysis of genomic and other data. The BioWheel was conceived as a graphic tool to visualize protein networks and treatments for breast cancer.
Qutub and her team won last year’s competition and now are helping to host 300 participants from 60 countries in this year’s contest, which began in June and ends in mid-September. The contestants are working on the analysis of genetics and other data to help leukemia patients. “We’ve particularly noted that there are users who repeatedly use the tools,” she says. “These observations bode very well for commercializing BioWheel because not only is the Dream audience clinical researchers, they are people savvy in tech, bioinformatics, and biological modeling.”
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