The New Information Age

FLICKR, ERIC FISCHER

Advances in the biomedical sciences (genomics, in particular) and the advent of electronic health records have resulted in an enormous amount of data. More data could lead to more answers about human health and disease, but the information must be made accessible. Moreover, researchers must devise new ways of exploring such unprecedented data sets. In this regard, we are just beginning a new era of information technologies.

In my latest story for The Scientist, I explore some of the initiatives that aim to take advantage of the data deluge. In addition to developing user-friendly ways to store and share data, some groups are organizing competitions that challenge scientists to make sense of a particular group of data. Others are establishing platforms to collect data directly from patients themselves, with the hope of one day being able to return relevant information about their health.

But while the strategies may vary, one thing is clear: the widespread sharing of clinical trials results, detailed patient records, and other biomedical data stands to revolutionize the practice of medicine. As even more new technologies arise to support innovative ways of sharing and understanding data, it will be interesting to see how the field responds. Health care and research in the future may surprise us all.

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