Tech will benefit the ‘art of medicine’

MD Anderson researcher kicks off first MEST Conference at Rice’s BRC

Technology’s newfound ability to capture the “art” of medicine is key to the future of health care, cancer researcher Lynda Chin told an audience at Rice University this week. As scientific director of the MD Anderson Institute for Applied Cancer Science, she’s leading a program to do just that.

Lynda Chin

Chin delivered a rapid-fire keynote address at the first MEST (Medicine, Energy, Space, Technology) Conference Sept. 18 at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative. She said technology has advanced enough to make possible “big data” solutions that help clinicians and researchers share their knowledge and experience and ultimately deliver better care to patients.

“The art of medicine is the intuition that comes from the experience of having treated many patients,” she said. “That is very important because we don’t know everything about biology; we don’t know everything about disease. The rules we’re taught in medical school never apply to one single patient.”

Having a central, intelligent database that knows the state of the art in care for many diseases will spread the benefit of that intuition, she said. One such program, the Oncology Expert Adviser (OEA), is in development at MD Anderson.

It would, she said, “provide support to a nonspecialist oncologist who may never have seen this type of patient before, almost as though he’s able to call a buddy from medical school because he happened to know he’s an expert for that type of leukemia.”

Chin detailed MD Anderson’s partnership with IBM on the APOLLO program (Adaptive Data-Oriented Longitudinal Learning and Optimization), which uses a Watson supercomputer to combine the wealth of information available from patients and tools to manage big data for researchers. The result, Chin said, will be the ability to leverage the explosion in health data to gain insight and treat patients everywhere through programs like OEA.

“We want to capture expertise in a scalable solution so we can democratize it to primary- and secondary-care settings and deliver the best care to patients out there,” Chin said. It will be “almost like a very smart librarian who organizes information and provides recommendations,” she said.

Looping the research community into APOLLO will provide a common ground for clinicians and scientists to trade data. “This is a major treasure trove for research,” Chin said.

The MEST Conference was held for innovators in the target disciplines with an emphasis on applications, technology development and entrepreneurship. Among the speakers at the daylong event were Rice’s Kirsten Ostherr, a professor of English who is director and co-founder of the Medical Futures Lab, and Pradeep Anand, a lecturer in management at the Jones Graduate School of Business

Jan Odegard, executive director of Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology (K2I), and Simrit Parmar, founder of platformHouston and an assistant professor at MD Anderson, co-chaired the conference, and Odegard served as master of ceremonies. For more about the conference, visit K2I.

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.