Taste of Science: Big Human Data

Big tech companies have been in the spotlight with news coverage of how our personal data has been used or abused–and for many people, the lack of privacy is an unavoidable reality. But tech companies aren’t the only ones interested in obtaining our personal information. Health researchers and data scientists are looking to the widespread sharing of personal data as an opportunity to learn more about genetics, diseases, and overall personal health.

Big Human Data,” the first taste of science event of the year, welcomed two experts on the topic: Hannah Bayer, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Data Cubed, and Wendy Chung, Ph.D., director of clinical research at the Simons Foundation.

hannahbayer

Hannah Bayer, Ph.D. Photo courtesy of taste of science.

Bayer compared her view of big human data to the laborious, weather-dependent approaches early astronomers used to gain a base understanding of the stars. The practice was revolutionized about 25 years ago, she said, when scientists discovered that bolting a telescope to the ground allowed them to create a massive library of images while the earth was turning. A database including all the black holes in our universe made it easier for scientists to “go in, and just pick out all the black holes, and do your research that way,” she said. This is what turned astronomy into a data science.

“What if we could do that for humanity?” she asked the audience. “What if we could understand what makes us ill, what makes us healthy, what makes us successful … What if we could create a catalogue in just the same way?” Continue reading

NOVA on PBS: Cracking Your Genetic Code

This past Wednesday PBS aired a wonderful program on genetics, “Cracking Your Genetic Code,” as part of its NOVA series. The program, which was produced in association with The Hastings Center, explores whether we are ready for “personalized, gene-based medicine.” The full video is available online.

By following a few medical cases and interviewing researchers from noted institutions including NIH, Dartmouth, and Harvard, as well geneticists working at genotyping labs, the show draws attention to the hopes and the concerns that mass genetic sequencing may bring.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: