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There are approximately 22,000 new cases of lung cancer each year with an overall 5-year survival rate of only ~18 percent (American Cancer Society).  Treatment efforts using drugs and chemotherapy are effective for some, however more effective treatment has been hampered by the inability of clinicians to better target treatments to patients. It has been determined that Big Data holds the key for providing clinicians with the ability to develop more effective patient centered cancer treatments.

Big data analytics which leverages a vast amount of disparate, structured, and unstructured data sources will play a vital role in future cancer research. Although some analytics is currently being utilized in aiding cancer research, there are three (3) areas of interest that need attention. These areas are, medical image analysis, physiological signal processing, and genomic data processing. Research indicates that these innovative solutions should include further research in data wrangling, aggregating, and harmonizing continuous and discrete medical data formats.

Analysis of Big Data may also improve drug development by allowing researchers to better target novel treatments to patient populations. Providing the ability for clinicians to harness Big Data repositories to develop better targeted lung cancer treatments and to enhance the decision-making process to improve patient care can only be accomplished through the use of cognitive computing. However, having a source or sources of data available to “mine” for answers to improve lung cancer treatments is a challenge!

There is also a lack of available applications that can take advantage of Big Data repositories to recognize patterns of knowledge and extract that knowledge in any meaningful way. The extraction of knowledge must be presented in a way that researchers can use to improve patient centric diagnosis and the development of patient centric treatments. Having the ability to use cognitive computing and KM methods to uncover knowledge from large cancer repositories will provide researchers in hospitals, universities, and pharmaceutical companies with the ability to use Big Data to identify anomalies, discover new treatment combinations and enhance diagnostic decision making.

Content Curation

An important aspect to cognitive computing and Big Data is the ability to perform a measure of content curation. The lung cancer Big Data environment that will be analyzed should include both structured and unstructured data (unstructured being documents, spreadsheets, images, video, etc.). In order to ingest the data from the Big Data resource the data will need to be prepared. This data preparation includes applying Information Architecture (IA) to the unstructured data within the repository. Understanding the organization and classification schemes relating to the data both structured and unstructured is essential to unifying the data into one consistent ontology.

Are We Up for the Challenge!

Even if a Big Data source was available and content curation was successful, the vast amounts of patient data is governed by HIPAA laws which makes it difficult for researchers to gain access to clinical and genomic data shared across multiple institutions or firms including research institutions and hospitals. Gaining access to a big data repository all inclusive of patient specific data is essential to offering patient centered cancer treatments. Besides the technology challenges, there are data and regulation challenges. I’m sure that many of these challenges are being addressed. Thus, far there have been no solutions. Are we up for the challenge? Big Data analysis could help tell us which cancer patients are most likely to be cured with standard approaches, and which need more aggressive treatment and monitoring. My firm A.J. Rhem and Associates is currently looking for innovative and financial partners as we continue with our Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) research efforts, I invite you to connect with me to learn more! 

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