Big Data in Healthcare: Opportunities and Challenges
The fourth industrial revolution is underway and it’s powered by big data. The mass accumulation of real-world information — including everything from parameters tracked by surveillance tools such as Fitbit to evidence logged by parole officers, details mined from electronic health records and genomic sequences and more — has the potential to refine the healthcare system.
To realize the potential of big data, however, it must be treated with the utmost responsibility and privacy. On October 24, 2018, the New York Academy of Sciences and NYU School of Medicine presented Healthcare in the Era of Big Data, a two-day conference exploring the ethical risks and rewards of incorporating big data into the healthcare landscape. Healthcare professionals and bioethics experts discussed how to navigate recruitment and consent; privacy protection and data ownership; and corporate responsibility and compliance.
The issue of data stewardship is paramount now that anonymization of patient data is a pipedream of the past. Genetic databases such as 23andMe can easily identify an individual, so the critical question becomes: Who is responsible for safeguarding big data, and how? What penalties should be applied when big data is used in a way that harms individuals? How might profits from big data be equitably distributed? Experts tackled these questions and more in panel discussions about this new era of medicine and research.
The Neurobiology of Mental Illness: Advances and Therapeutic Approaches
Mental illnesses present a major health, social and economic burden and affected individuals experience disproportionately higher rates of both disability and mortality. In fact, the CDC reports that nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. And according to the WHO, depression alone accounts for 4.3 percent of the total disease burden worldwide and is the single greatest cause of disability. Yet despite enormous unmet need, efforts to develop new therapies for mental illness have stalled in part because of a need for more clarity surrounding the biological underpinnings of these diseases.
On October 9, 2018, the New York Academy of Sciences presented Advances in the Neurobiology of Mental Illness. The one-day symposium, sponsored by Janssen Research & Development, LLC, brought together scientists, clinicians and policymakers to discuss the genetics, molecular biology and neurobiology of a wide range of mental illnesses. Topics included novel targets for treating depression, using genetic profiles to assess the risk of experiencing mental illness and broader questions about battling the stigma surrounding such conditions.
Antimicrobial Resistance in Food Animal Production: Minimizing the Risk
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2 million people in the United States alone contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year, at an annual cost of $20 billion to $35 billion. While the sources of infection vary, the rise in prevalence of resistant organisms over the past several decades has triggered global public action to minimize the spread of antimicrobial resistance and reduce the use of antibiotics in humans and food production animals. On September 28, 2018, the New York Academy of Sciences and Elanco Animal Health presented Minimizing the Risk of Antimicrobial Resistance from Food Animal Production, a daylong symposium to discuss the drivers of antimicrobial resistance in food animal production; identify pathways for transmission of resistant organisms and methods for controlling transmission; explore alternative treatment approaches; and discuss consumer demands and beliefs surrounding food safety and the use of antibiotics in the food supply.
Neuro-Immunology and Alzheimer’s Disease: Exploring Therapeutic Approaches
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a devastating neurodegenerative disorder for which there is a major unmet therapeutic need. Limited success from current translational models and amyloid-centric clinical trials highlight the need for broader therapeutic strategies. As a result, researchers are closely examining interactions between the brain and the immune system to understand how innate immune processes affect the pathology of AD. On September 25, 2018, the New York Academy of Sciences hosted Neuro-Immunology: The Impact of Immune Function on Alzheimer’s Disease, a symposium that brought together experts working at the intersection of neurology and immunology, with the goal of targeting the immune system for next-generation AD therapeutics.
Cancer Immunotherapy: The 2018 Dr. Paul Janssen Award Symposium
This year, on September 12 — Dr. Paul Janssen’s birthday — luminaries in the field of immunotherapy gathered at the New York Academy of Sciences to grant the 2018 Dr. Paul Janssen Award to one of the field’s founders, James P. Allison, PhD. The Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research was established in 2004 by Johnson & Johnson to recognize and reward “champions of science” whose work saves lives, as Dr. Janssen’s did. Dr. Allison certainly fits the bill; his discovery of immunotherapy in the lab and his promotion of it in the clinic have redefined cancer treatment and functionally cured patients previously thought to have terminal disease. Two of the fifteen scientists previously granted the Dr. Paul Janssen Award have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, and Dr. Allison recently joined them. In October, he was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University.