Exploring the Intersection of Data Science & Human Health
Health data is more diverse, accessible, and useful than it has ever been. Technological advancements have transformed information about human health into digital form, enabling a plethora of new computing applications in the healthcare sector. We can now quantify, on a massive scale, many factors that contribute to our health, such as:
- Our Genome — We now have relatively affordable sequencing infrastructure, which has greatly accelerated biological and medical research. It costs approximately $1,000 to sequence a human genome, down from ~$3 billion just 15 years ago.
- Our Behavior — We are able to quantify many aspects of our lifestyles, giving us a better understanding of how our choices impact our health. Over 300 million smart devices were sold in 2017, and every year the total installed base of quantified individuals increases.
- Our Health Record — We now have pervasive digitized health records that provide detailed data on an individual’s historical health. In 2015, approximately 84% of all non-Federal acute-care hospitals had adopted a basic electronic health record, which has increased from 9.4% in 2008.
Not only is data more available, but the analytical tools we have to extract knowledge from that information are more powerful than ever. Deep learning, for example, enables enterprising founders to vastly improve diagnostic solutions for physicians. This potent combination of health data and analytical tools allows us to explore a variety of questions central to our understanding of human health. The answers to these questions will directly impact patient outcomes and the efficiency of our healthcare system. We’re excited to share three areas that we’ve been exploring.
Note: the companies referenced below are not TSV portfolio companies, and are intended only to elucidate some of the themes we find exciting.
#1) How is our health trajectory affected by our daily choices?
We intuitively understand that our health is impacted by a variety of factors. Our daily choices, such as diet and exercise, can dramatically impact the trajectory of our health. Furthermore, all of us are impacted by decisions in different ways based on our genetic code. The impact of these decisions takes years to manifest, and have traditionally been almost impossible to isolate.
WuXi NextCode attempts to address this issue by using a whole-genome sequencing scan for healthy individuals. Recently, the company recruited 190 individuals and sequenced their genome to assess their risk for common polygenic diseases. One individual in the study was found to have an unusually high risk for type 2 diabetes and was provided lifestyle recommendations, including increased exercise and weight loss, to reduce this risk. In this context, traditionally vague guidance, such as “exercising,” was directly linked to reducing the risk of diabetes caused by genetic factors, creating an immediate understanding of how a daily choice can impact long-term personal health.
#2) How can we catch disease and deliver treatment earlier?
Providers can more effectively care for patients if they are able to catch diseases earlier. A critical component to this challenge is objectively measuring patient health in an ongoing manner. Today, catching health issues often relies on health assessments that happen too infrequently, and in some scenarios, too late in the development of a disease. This ultimately leads to increased treatment costs and worse patient outcomes.
Mindstrong is bringing objective measurement to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases. Using an individual’s smartphone, Mindstrong conducts “digital phenotyping,” which collects behavioral data, such as swiping patterns and location, to provide measures of emotion and cognition. These measurements provide meaningful signals that have been clinically proven to help providers detect disorders earlier. This technology is important because it enables providers to deliver preemptive treatments sooner and has the potential to dramatically change how we treat neurological diseases.
#3) How can we account for individual variability when we treat disease?
How each individual responds to medicine is highly dependent on unique factors. For instance, genetic variation in the enzymes responsible for drug metabolism can have a dramatic impact on patient response to medication. Understanding how all of the unique factors will impact a prescribed treatment is a very complicated challenge.
One of the major hurdles in this endeavor is unifying all of the relevant factors related to an individual’s unique variation. Syapse is a software platform focused on integrating clinical and molecular data that are typically segregated in disparate EHR systems. The company’s technology integrates, among other things, clinical, pathology, radiology, treatment, and lab results in a unified store to provide a single source of truth related to an individual’s health. With this unified view, providers have a data foundation to deliver precision care tailored to specific variations in individuals.
Digital information will play a fundamental role in answering questions critical to our understanding of human health. Many companies have begun to find incredible success, but this is just the beginning. We are excited about this data-driven future and are excited to continue exploring a new understanding of human health.
If you are an entrepreneur exploring these or related questions, we would love to chat.