Drowning in Information but Starving for Answers
Fifty years ago, I joined an estimated 600 million people worldwide in watching the “prime time” broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s descent from the Eagle lunar module to take the first steps on the moon. Recently, the world honored and remembered this historic event. It has been reported that 400,000 people worked on the project, one of the most complex endeavors in the history of mankind. It is safe to say that the seemingly impossible time frame established by President Kennedy with its enormous technical, engineering and data challenges is by any standard remarkable.
The parallels between such a monumental accomplishment and our present-day challenges of envisioning, designing, and implementing a new era of brain disorder solutions, are eerily similar. President Kennedy understood the complexities that would have to be solved collaboratively for the Apollo program to succeed. Then (as now) one couldn’t grasp the concept of how so many varied disciplines could be fully integrated, how highly technical information and data could be effectively shared, and how a project of this magnitude and significance could not only achieve its objective but do it at a level of perfection that would bring its three astronauts home safely. Imagine the scope, and then imagine the ludicrous time frame, less than a decade from conception to completion.
During the entire 20th century, neurologists, epidemiologists, geneticists, psychiatrists, neurosurgeons, psychologists and other brain disorder specialists, have spent their careers looking at mental illnesses and brain-based diseases. Millions of hours, trillions of dollars, and thousands of expertly designed processes have been deployed in search of specific markers, tools and systems that would provide answers to some of the most complex medical issues still confronting us today. Like landing a person on the moon, for the vision to become reality a new construct is required, one that relies on innovative ways to objectively assemble and analyze millions (perhaps billions) of pieces of human data in novel, new ways that have rarely been used in medicine before. Some see that the catalyst to drive this breakthrough approach is through the building blocks of what is termed Artificial Intelligence, a bold new frontier worth exploring.
“We are at the same crossroads that faced Apollo 11 scientists at MIT, like Margaret Hamilton, who was a software engineer when software engineering as a field didn’t exist and there was no clearly defined pathway for what needed to be done,” explains Rhoda Au, Ph.D., a professor and neuropsychologist at Boston University. “Understanding the complexities of the brain requires commitment to invest and work in the unknown in order to solve what is still largely unknown.”
The first hints of potential in this evolving technology may have come during the mapping of the Human Genome Project. This phenomenally impactful, collaborative and data intensive project has yielded the most complete blueprint of our genetic makeup to date. Generating immeasurable benefit for the study of medicine, biotechnology and the life sciences, genetic mapping, attributed to advanced biotechnology, has opened an era where prediction and prevention may finally have a leg up on post-onset diagnosis of some of our most complex diseases. More importantly, it is prompting us each day to rethink how we characterize diseases and complex psychiatric conditions. One of the most important elements of this is the use of “big data” analytical tools and techniques. For instance, it is now possible to organize an unlimited amount of multivariable information from different human biome sources, quantitative radiological output, subjective cognitive testing, environmental impacts and others, to increase the speed, accuracy and predictability of root cause analysis.
No industry outside of healthcare has more to gain from the emerging developments of Artificial Intelligence technologies. Healthcare is extremely information intensive but, in most cases, siloed in unimaginable ways. To date, most efforts to analyze mental health disorders have provided relatively small and insignificant gains in knowledge, certainly not enough to garner consensus in appropriate diagnosis and treatment pathways. Current systems for collection and analysis have cost hundreds of millions of dollars and have proven insufficient to handle the magnitude of rapidly expanding healthcare information being created each day.
One significant problem is that almost without exception, data is owned, constructed and shielded to fit the needs of the originating company or institution. This creates a dilemma for medical technology innovators. They want all available data, sometimes seemingly unrelated, in order to let the technologies known as machine learning, pattern matching, or predictive analytics unleash their impressive processing capabilities in order to optimize their decision support system’s output.
At CereHealth, we address and simplify how to collect, store, integrate and connect information between multiple and independent data sources. Our IllumeAI software suite eliminates the frustration of having data that cannot be easily used to produce intelligent health analytics that can be trusted, analytics that can increase the probability of a more accurate diagnosis and implementation of improved personalized medicine. As data scientists race to discover new methods of integration and utilization of the “galaxies” of healthcare data available, I am reminded of Neil Armstrong as he placed the first human steps on the surface of the moon and said “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” His sentiment on that historic day in 1969 is timeless and relevant in a very personal way as we forge ahead in the development of IllumeAI and products like it fifty years later.