Vast amounts of data from genomic sequencing and electronic health records (EHRs) have the potential to radically improve the health of individual patients, but first, institutions must learn how to manage the data, and adopt uniform standards that allow them to share it.
This discussion took center stage at a Working Summit on Big Data hosted by The Atlantic in partnership with the Mount Sinai Health System on Wednesday, October 23, at The New York Palace Hotel. At a roundtable discussion, 24 policymakers, entrepreneurs, and health care leaders shared their thoughts and experiences in harnessing petabytes of data for use in improving human health.
“We now sequence the genetics of a single tumor, model that tumor in an animal model, test drugs on that animal model, and take those findings back to the patient. We can’t do that without a great multidisciplinary group of scientists and physicians, as well as super computing capacity,” said Dennis S. Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and President for Academic Affairs at the Mount Sinai Health System.
Few academic research institutions have on-site computing capabilities comparable to Mount Sinai’s, which allow researchers to integrate and analyze different dimensions of biological data from large populations of people and perform predictive modeling.
Under the leadership of Eric Schadt, PhD, Director of the Icahn Institute of Genomics and Multiscale Biology, Chair of Genetics and Genomic Sciences, and the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Genomics, the Mount Sinai Health System has recruited top data scientists from Stanford University, IBM Corp., and other leading institutions to form a new epicenter for personalized medicine.
At the core of this infrastructure is Minerva, a powerful supercomputer that is used for many initiatives, including the storage and analysis of DNA and plasma samples from more than 27,500 individuals in Mount Sinai’s biobank, or BioME.
Kenneth L. Davis, MD, Chief Executive Officer and President of the Mount Sinai Health System, said Mount Sinai understands the importance of collecting comprehensive patient health records, and is also using Minerva to help control readmissions and the other drivers of health care costs.
Summit participants agreed that sharing data across institutions would ultimately benefit patients, but they noted challenges that exist today. David Artz, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said, “Not all data is good data, and not all data is standardized. Sometimes the problem is how well you asked the patient a question, or how well the answer was coded.”
Jim Peters, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MedMining, a Geisinger Health System unit that licenses HIPAA-compliant, de-identified EHR data extracts to promote research, said electronic health records may only capture a patient’s health profile, but not necessarily his or her behaviors.
The “holy grail,” said Dr. Schadt, will be when patients and their physicians have a meaningful discussion about the information they have, and use it to impact their decision-making.