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Stanford University School of Medicine

Countdown to Big Data in Biomedicine: Heart wellness in an era of precision health

AHA CEO Nancy Brown during D3-Research Legacy: OPS.01 - Opening Session, launch of My Research Legacy during Opening SessionAmerican Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown began her career at the AHA three decades ago, when heart health was defined by healthy eating, exercise and smoking cessation. These are still essential components of health, of course, but now the AHA, researchers and clinicians are also using big data, technology and genomics to boost cardiovascular wellness and research.

Brown will be speaking about those efforts at Stanford Medicine's upcoming Big Data in Biomedicine Conference, which is taking place here on May 24 and 25. I recently caught up with her via email.

Why is big data important for heart health and for the American Heart Association?

When consumers track their own behavior, they can make small changes that can have a big impact on their heart health. A vast collection method results in what we refer to as "big data," where we can have massive change. We can allocate resources for targeted therapies. We can find gaps in our knowledge and design research to address it. Perhaps we could even pursue infrastructure changes such as better access to walking paths, expanded bike lanes and more green spaces for physical activity. The possibilities are endless...

Tell me more about the AHA's Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine.

The Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine, created in 2015, offers grant opportunities to scientists of all fields and also creates products and services that integrate research with more precise approaches to reverse and prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke.

One way that we're making precision medicine a reality is through the AHA Precision Medicine Platform. In collaboration with Amazon Web Services, the AHA Precision Medicine Platform is a data marketplace powered by the cloud to house vast and previously siloed data so that researchers can easily access and analyze large data sets to accelerate breakthroughs in prevention, treatment and cures for heart disease and stroke.

The institute is also committed to empowering and engaging individuals, families and communities to share personal health information to improve research and outcomes. In conjunction with the Broad Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the AHA created an online network called My Research Legacy, which puts people at the center of scientific research by encouraging individuals to provide lifestyle, health, and genetic data - all of it stripped of personal identification - which can be analyzed to detect previously unrecognized patterns that can support precision medicine solutions.

What changes do you foresee in the field of health advocacy and research?

The power and promise of big data will reach proportions we can't even imagine today. Researchers will have access to larger and more diverse patient databases, which can be analyzed and shared with other researchers. The technology that drives big data will also give patients a stronger voice in their own care. An example of this is crowdsourcing, which gives patients the opportunity to express their concerns and needs, and to provide input regarding which preventive, diagnostic, and treatment approaches worked best for them. The AHA is strongly committed to accelerating the pace of scientific discovery through our own funding and by advocating for these to be incorporated into funding by the National Institutes of Health and others.

What are you planning to discuss at the conference?

I'll be discussing One Brave Idea -- an innovative scientific research enterprise that is pursuing dramatic breakthroughs to prevent and reverse coronary heart disease and its consequences. OBI is a $75 million project led by Calum MacRae, MD, PhD, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston [who will also be speaking at the conference] and funded by the AHA, Verily and AstraZeneca...

Over the next five years, MacRae and his team of eight multidisciplinary researchers from around the world will seek to understand the very earliest components and indicators of the disease to uncover where and how the disease develops with the goal of stopping it from ever fully developing.

For more, mark your calendar for Brown's keynote address at 1:30 p.m. on May 25; it will be livestreamed on the conference website.

Previously: Stanford's Big Data Conference returning and Countdown to Big Data in Biomedicine: Improving health using network science
Photo by AHA/Phil McCarten 2016

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