on March 24th, 2014 No Comments
Electronic patient records, clinical trials, DNA sequencing, and medical imaging and disease registries are a sampling of the sources contributing to the exponential growth of public databases housing biomedical information. Researchers hope mining this vast reservoir of data will accelerate the process of understanding disease while driving down the costs of developing new therapies.
But the challenge of harnessing big data to transform scientific research and improve human health is one that is so complex that it can’t be solved alone by a single person, institution or company; collaboration among government, academia and industry is imperative. To foster such partnerships, Stanford and Oxford University are sponsoring the Big Data in Biomedicine conference from May 21-23.
The conference is part of a big data initiative launched by Stanford and Oxford to solve large-number problems at a global scale to improve health worldwide. Euan Ashley, MD, who directs the effort at Stanford, has been involved in several major projects over the past few years to link an individual’s genome sequence to possible increases in disease risk. In the following Q&A, he shares insights about the upcoming conference program, provides an update on the initiative, and discusses how big data can drive innovation for a healthier world.
A collaborative effort between Oxford and Stanford aims to accelerate discovery from large-number data sets to provide new insight into disease and to apply targeted therapies on an unprecedented scale. In what ways are the universities currently working together to achieve this goal?
The Global Institute for Human Health Initiative is a very exciting new venture between these two universities. Catalyzed by the Li Ka Shing Foundation, the initiative draws on the complementary strengths of each institution. Stanford excels in innovation, technology and data management and analysis. Oxford has global reach through its School of Public Health. So it makes sense to work together.
One of our primary goals will be to build “bridges” between the largest databanks of health information in the world. These individual large-scale efforts are remarkable in their own way, but each one has by definition to focus primarily on its own data. This means that limited bandwidth is available to develop mechanisms of secure sharing and analysis. That bandwidth and expertise are things we hope to provide through the initiative. The seed grants awarded through our program in Data Science for Human Health are another way we have started to collaborate. Each one has an Oxford-Stanford collaboration at its heart.
Tell us more about those seed grants. How many have you awarded, and for what kinds of projects?
We received 60 applications and were able to award 12 grants totaling $807,171.48. Among the projects receiving funding were new methods for analyzing accelerometer data in smartphones, approaches to imaging data, and ideas for large scale data analysis, point of care testing for infectious disease and mobile application development. It was an amazing group of applications and I wish we could have funded more projects. At the conference, there will be a brief satellite meeting for the recipients to interact.
Let’s talk more about the upcoming conference. What else can attendees expect from it?
We have an exciting program with a number of high-profile speakers. I’m particularly pleased this year with the broad representation of presenters across sectors. There will be speakers across government, industry and academia, including representatives from the National Institutes of Health, Google, Intel, Mount Sinai and Duke.
We’ve also expanded our international reach, and one of the keynote speeches will be delivered by Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute. Additionally, this year’s program includes two new topic areas: computing and architecture, which will be chaired by Hector Garcia Molina, PhD, and infectious disease genomics, a particular strength at Oxford. Another addition is the Big Data Corporate Showcase, where companies ranging from industry giants to start-ups will share their achievements and innovations related to big data. So, lots to look forward to!