Duke Research Blog

Following the people and events that make up the research community at Duke.

Author: Nina Cervantes

Opportunities at the Intersection of Technology and Healthcare

What’d you do this Halloween?

I attended a talk on the intersection of technology and healthcare by Dr. Erich Huang, who is an assistant professor of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics and Assistant Dean for Biomedical Informatics. He’s also the new co-director of Duke Forge, a health data science research group.

This was not a conventional Halloween activity by any means, but I felt lucky to be exposed to this impactful research surrounded by views of the Duke forest in fall in Penn Pavilion at IBM-Duke Day.

Erich Huang

Erich Huang, M.D., PhD. is the co-director of Duke Forge, our new health data effort.

Dr. Huang began his talk with a statistic: only six out of 53 landmark cancer biology research papers are reproducible. This fact was shocking (and maybe a little bit scary?), considering  that these papers serve as the foundation for saving cancer patients’ lives. Dr. Huang said that it’s time to raise standards for cancer research.

What is his proposed solution? Using data provenance, which is essentially a historical record of data and its origins, when dealing with important biomedical data.

He mentioned Duke Data Service (DukeDS), which is an information technology service that features data provenance for scientific workflows. With DukeDS, researchers are able to share data with approved team members across campus or across the world.

Next, Dr. Huang demonstrated the power of data science in healthcare by describing an example patient. Mr. Smith is 63 years old with a history of heart attacks and diabetes. He has been having trouble sleeping and his feet have been red and puffy. Mr. Smith meets the criteria for heart failure and appropriate interventions, such as a heart pump and blood thinners.

A problem that many patients at risk of heart failure face is forgetting to take their blood thinners. Using Pillsy, a company that makes smart pill bottles with automatic tracking, we could record Mr. Smith’s medication taking and record this information on the blockchain, or by storing blocks of information that are linked together so that each block points to an older version of that information. This type of technology might allow for the recalculation of dosage so that Mr. Smith could take the appropriate amount after a missed dose of a blood thinner.

These uses of data science, and specifically blockchain and data provenance, show great opportunity at the intersection of technology and healthcare. Having access to secure and traceable data can lead to research being more reproducible and therefore reliable.

At the end of his presentation, Dr. Huang suggested as much collaboration in research between IBM and Duke as possible, especially in his field. Seeing that the Research Triangle Park location of IBM is the largest IBM development site in the world and is conveniently located to one of the best research universities in the nation, his suggestion makes complete sense.

By Nina Cervantes        

New Blogger Nina Cervantes: Economics Senior from the Sunny State

Hi all!  My name is Nina Cervantes and I’m a senior economics major at Duke also pursuing a certificate in markets and management studies and a minor in history. I’m from a town about 30 minutes away from San Diego, California and am blessed to say only about 20 minutes away from the beach!

Something that really defines me is my desire to challenge many sides of myself in the hopes of developing into a well-rounded individual. Whether it be challenging my creative side by writing (for both school and on the personal blog that I recently started), or by challenging my quantitative side by participating as a research assistant in the Duke Environmental Justice lab leveraging data to reveal environmental injustices, I love to bolster as many facets of myself as possible.

Nina Cervantes hitting a volleyball

Nina Cervantes playing volleyball at the beach.

This desire led me to working a Marketing Communications internship this past summer at RTI International, the original research institute in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. During the course of my internship, part of my role was communicating sometimes dense research into digestible content marketing pieces for potential clients and the general public that might be perusing RTI’s work. This included connecting with subject matter experts who had actually conducted the studies and working through the material to be able to understand it well enough to communicate its power and potential to the world. This aspect of my internship was definitely one of the most rewarding parts, so blogging for Duke Research seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to transfer the skills I learned at RTI International, while also continuing to build my communication and analytical skills.

In addition to writing for the Duke Research Blog, I am also heavily involved with the Duke Women’s Basketball program and this is the 3rd year I have participated as a student manager. Like I said previously, I also started working on the research team for Duke’s Environmental Justice Lab last year and am very excited to start seeing some results of my first research experience at Duke!

Looking forward, I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet some really influential leaders in the research world, connect to the power and potential of their research, and then share it with you all in the best way I can. To me, there are few things more rewarding than sharing the power of a new discovery!

Post by Nina Cervantes

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