Big data helps target MS treatments

Big data analytics is helping researchers at The State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo study genetic and environmental factors that may cause multiple sclerosis symptoms to accelerate in some patients. Using IBM analytics software, researchers will look for individualized treatments to slow aggressive symptoms, including physical disability and cognitive impairment.  

The data, researchers say, can reveal hidden trends in MS patient data, such as how factors such as gender, geography, ethnicity, diet, exercise, sun exposure and living and working conditions affect the condition.  

As with other such projects, using big data--crunching numbers from medical records, lab results, MRI scans and patient surveys, for example--reduces the time it takes to conduct these analyses from days to minutes.

"Identifying common trends across massive amounts of MS data is a monumental task that is much like trying to shoot a speeding bullet out of the sky with another bullet," SUNY Buffalo lead researcher Murali Ramanathan, Ph.D., said in a statement. "[Big data] analytics helps our researchers fine tune their aim and match the speed of analysis with the rate of data coming into our systems. Our goal is to demystify why the disease progresses more rapidly in some patients and get those insights back to other researchers, so they can find new treatments."

IBM's analytics software is behind a number of other big data projects, as well. Boston's Harvard Medical School is using big data to determine the effectiveness of prescription drugs and The University of Ontario Institute of Technology is using it to provide real-time information to doctors enabling them to better care for critically ill premature babies.

In March, the Obama administration announced it was putting $200 million behind a big data effort that will benefit several industries, including healthcare and health IT.

Additionally, Amazon and the National Institutes of Health also announced in March that, through completion of the 1000 Genomes Project, 200 terabytes of genomic data now are publicly available free of charge.

To learn more:
- see the SUNY Buffalo announcement

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