They call it “mining” for a reason. Like prospectors driven to dig through mountains seeking a small, yet valuable vein, data scientists, technologists, and medical researchers see tantalizing opportunities hidden deep in the mountains of digital medical data piling up around the world. They have no doubt that clues to better treatments—perhaps even cures—for many diseases lie undiscovered within the data. At WPI today, researchers are pushing the boundaries of data science and technology development to bring to the surface new knowledge that will help clinicians and patients.
When a medication harms instead of heals, a report is made to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so the agency can act to prevent others from suffering the same fate. That’s the theory. In practice the system is far from foolproof, due to the huge volume of data flowing in to the FDA and the almost impossible challenge of extracting key information from that deluge of electronic reports.
“It’s information overload,” says Elke Rundensteiner, PhD (above), professor of computer science and founding director of WPI’s Data Science Program. And making matters worse, she says, “the information they need to know is buried deep in the data.”