News Feature | September 21, 2015

University Of Michigan Launches Big Data Science Initiative

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Big Data

The initiative will target health, transportation, social science, and learning analytics.

Big Data has the potential to fundamentally alter the healthcare landscape, and now the University of Michigan has announced it is launching a $100 million Big Data Science Initiative targeting health, transportation, social science, and learning analytics to tap into Big Data’s potential. The initiative includes hiring 35 new faculty members, supporting interdisciplinary data-related research initiatives, and fostering new methodological approaches to Big Data.

U-M provost Martha Pollack explained, “Data science has become a fourth approach to scientific discovery, in addition to experimentation, modeling and computation. To spur innovation while providing focus, the DSI will launch challenge initiatives in four critical interdisciplinary areas that build on our existing strengths in transportation research, health sciences, learning analytics and social science research.”

In medicine and public health, U-M researchers seek to use Big Data to boost the effectiveness of data-driven biomedical and health research to accelerate the translation from basic research to patient care. By sifting through the massive amount of data generated from DNA sequencing, medical histories, and other sources, for example, they are exploring ways to more precisely diagnose or assess an individual's risk for certain types of cancer, and to formulate the most effective personalized therapies.

Researchers from U-M’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation can analyze 100 terabytes of anonymous healthcare data from 113 million individuals to improve personalized healthcare delivery, according to U-M.

“Technology has given consumers a higher standard for services that are instantly accessible, and expectations remain the same for the healthcare industry,” eClinicalWorks CEO Girish Navani wrote in a post on U.S. News & World Report Health. “Wearable devices, mobility and analytics are shifting the way people move through the health system, and Big Data is at the center of it all.

“Consider the amount of data that exists on a person's mobile device, fitness tracker or wearable device, and factor in their electronic health record," Navani wrote. "Integrating a patient's medical history with their day-to-day recordings — which they've actively chosen to invest in and monitor — has incredible potential for improving how doctors understand and treat each individualized patient.”

Navani asserts the convergence of medicine and technology is already happening and leveraging Big Data and analytics has the potential to exponentially benefit healthcare, stating, “Once doctors and providers start viewing their patients as consumers, patients will begin to expect a personalized medical experience that factors in all of their health information, much like many retailers already do today.”

“Big Data can provide dramatic insights into the nature of disease, climate change, social behavior, business and economics, engineering, and the basic biological and physical sciences,” explained U-M president Mark Schlissel. “Big Data is revolutionizing research in an extraordinary range of disciplines," said S. Jack Hu, interim vice president for research. "With this initiative, our goal is to spark innovation in research across campus while inspiring further advances in the techniques of data science itself.”