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How high-tech will personalise health

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The health sector is on the cusp of a step change that will see patients benefit from treatment that is more focused on the individual than ever before, writes DR WOLFGANG MERTZ, CTO EMEA for Healthcare, Life Sciences and HPC, Dell EMC Isilon.

Through the better use of data and advances in analytics, precision healthcare promises a more personalised approach that will significantly improve the outcome of even the most serious illnesses.

As well as improving patient care, this new level of personalisation also has the potential to meet the increasing cost challenges faced by the healthcare sector by ensuring resources are allocated in the best way.

It’s generating significant traction as a result, with Global Market Insights recently forecasting that the market size will reach $88 billion by 2023.

Not all patients are the same

The fundamental idea behind precision medicine is that one size doesn’t fit all. While some patients respond to a certain treatment, there will be others that don’t.

For example, for one specific type of cancer, just 20 percent of patients respond well to chemotherapy. This means that treating the other 80 percent in the same way is both time consuming and expensive, with little chance of a positive outcome.

As well as environmental and lifestyle factors, these variations in how patients respond to treatment are often down to genetics. While specific patient details and heath history can inform precision medicine, the ability to analyse individual genomes can take it to a new level.

The role of the genome

Analysis of a patient’s genome can identify biomarkers that provide a strong indication of how they will respond to a certain treatment. In short, this means patients can be offered treatment that is most likely to treat their illness successfully.

Genome sequencing reveals the unique code that defines the physical characteristics of a person, including the likelihood that they will develop certain illnesses.

Specialist companies provide genome sequencing but the fact that the human genome was first sequenced just ten years ago and contains more than three billion base pairs, puts the data challenge in perspective.

Many countries have national collections of genomics data, such as Genomics England, which is funded by the NHS. Using this data, patterns can emerge across populations that can be used to inform treatment.

However, there remain a number of challenges before precision medicine can become a practical reality for the average patient.

Getting the infrastructure right

Firstly, health organisations must gain an understanding of where different data is located and how it can be accessed in an appropriate way.

Patient data is often siloed in hospitals (in Electronic Medical Records or PACS, for example) while other useful genomics data could be spread across regions, countries and beyond. The first challenge is therefore to locate and access relevant data. This requires national and international coordination to establish channels and systems that healthcare organisations can use to access the data they need.

Of course, all of this data must then be consolidated in a way that gives it practical value. Data lake technology – for example, Dell EMC’s healthcare data lake – is particularly useful in this respect, as it brings together structured and unstructured data from a wide range of sources in a single location. Once in place, this data can be easily interrogated by analytics tools to generate useful insight.

There will also be challenges around the approach different regions take with their genomics data. Some countries may have a small number of healthcare regions in a simple structure, while others are more complex. Healthcare organisations, government and research institutions will need to work out the best way to work with the relevant stakeholders, including who will lead the data consolidation and how this can be done as efficiently as possible.

In this scenario, it’s likely that the volume of data that organisations have access to will grow over time, as new connections are made and further bodies of research are created. The size of the data lake is therefore likely to grow, so scale-out storage, such as that provided by Dell EMC Isilon, will be another important element of the technology infrastructure  needed to support  the development of precision medicine.

Making genomics data useable
The latest storage technology will clearly be crucial but there also needs to be a way for GPs and other clinicians to make use of the data when dealing with individual patient cases. The data needs to be presented in a way that can be understood by people who aren’t trained in data science.

The development of platform applications is critical if this progress in data analysis is to make a real impact. Specialist ISVs are already developing applications to deliver these kinds of insights but it will take time for them to be adopted widely.

Security is another key consideration when working with patient data. Strict access controls should therefore be applied and data anonymised where relevant.

As the exciting world of genomics is poised to revolutionise patient care, it’s important that organisations delivering healthcare prepare their technology infrastructure.

Data lakes, scale-out storage and platform applications will all be key technologies in making precision medicine a reality in the coming years. If healthcare organisations put these capabilities in place, they will be able to bring patient care to a whole new level.

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Tech promotes connections across groups in emerging markets

Digital technology users say they more regularly interact with people from diverse backgrounds

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Smartphone users – especially those who use social media – say they are more regularly exposed to people who have different backgrounds. They are also more connected with friends they don’t see in person, a Pew Research Center survey of adults in 11 emerging economies finds.

South Africa, included in the study, has among the most consistent levels of connection across age groups and education levels and in terms of cross-cultural connections. This suggests both that smartphones have had a greater democratisation impact in South Africa, but also that the country is more geared to diversity than most others. Of 11 countries surveyed, it has the second-lowest spread between those using smartphones and those not using them in terms of exposure to other religious groups.

Across every country surveyed, those who use smartphones are more likely than those who use less sophisticated phones or no phones at all to regularly interact with people from different religious groups. In most countries, people with smartphones also tend to be more likely to interact regularly with people from different political parties, income levels and racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

The Center’s new report is the third in a series exploring digital connectivity among populations in emerging economies based on nationally representative surveys of adults in Colombia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, Tunisia, South Africa, Venezuela and Vietnam. Earlier reports examined attitudes toward misinformation and mobile technology’s social impact

The survey finds that smartphone and social media use are intertwined: A median of 91% of smartphone users in these countries also use social media or messaging apps, while a median of 81% of social media users say they own or share a smartphone. And, as with smartphone users, social media and messaging app users stand apart from non-users in how often they interact with people who are different from them. For example, 52% of Mexican social media users say they regularly interact with people of a different income level, compared with 28% of non-users. 

These results do not show with certainty that smartphones or social media are the cause of people feeling like they have more diverse networks. For example, those who have resources to buy and maintain a smartphone are likely to differ in many key ways from those who don’t, and it could be that some combination of those differences drives this phenomenon. Still, statistical modelling indicates that smartphone and social media use are independent predictors of greater social network diversity when other factors such as age, education and sex are held constant. 

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • Mobile phones and social media are broadening people’s social networks. More than half in most countries say they see in person only about half or fewer of the people they call or text. Mobile phones are also allowing many to stay in touch with people who live far away: A median of 93% of mobile phone users across the 11 countries surveyed say their phones have mostly helped them keep in touch with those who are far-flung. When it comes to social media, large shares report relationships with “friends” online who are distinct from those they see in person. A median of 46% of Facebook users across the 11 countries report seeing few or none of their Facebook friends in person regularly, compared with a median of 31% of Facebook users who often see most or all of their Facebook friends in person. 
  • Social activities and information seeking on subjects like health and education top the list of mobile activities. The survey asked mobile phone users about 10 different activities they might do on their mobile phones – activities that are social, information-seeking or commercial in nature. Among the most commonly reported activities are casual, social activities. For example, a median of 82% of mobile phone users in the 11 countries surveyed say they used their phone over the past year to send text messages and a median of 69% of users say they took pictures or videos. Many mobile phone users are also using their phones to find new information. For example, a median of 61% of mobile phone users say they used their phones over the past year to look up information about health and medicine for themselves or their families. This is more than the proportion that reports using their phones to get news and information about politics (median of 47%) or to look up information about government services (37%). Additionally, around half or more of mobile phone users in nearly all countries report having used their phones over the past 12 months to learn something important for work or school. 
  • Digital divides emerge in the new mobile-social environment. People with smartphones and social media – as well as younger people, those with higher levels of education, and men – are in some ways reaping more benefits than others, potentially contributing to digital divides. 
    • People with smartphones are much more likely to engage in activities on their phones than people with less sophisticated devices – even if the activity itself is quite simple. For example, people with smartphones are more likely than those with feature or basic phones to send text messages in each of the 11 countries surveyed, even though the activity is technically feasible from all mobile phones. Those who have smartphones are also much more likely to look up information for their households, including about health and government services. 
    •  There are also major differences in mobile usage by age and education level in how their devices are – or are not – broadening their horizons. Younger people are more likely to use their phones for nearly all activities asked about, whether those activities are social, information-seeking or commercial. Phone users with higher levels of education are also more likely to do most activities on their phones and to interact with those who are different from them regularly than those with lower levels of education. 
    •  Gender, too, plays a role in what people do with their devices and how they are exposed to different people and information. Men are more likely than women to say they encounter people who are different from them, whether in terms of race, politics, religion or income. And men tend to be more likely to look up information about government services and to obtain political news and information. 

These findings are drawn from a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 28,122 adults in 11 countries from Sept. 7 to Dec. 7, 2018. In addition to the survey, the Center conducted focus groups with participants in Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and Tunisia in March 2018, and their comments are included throughout the report. 

Read the full report at https://www.pewinternet.org/2019/08/22/in-emerging-economies-smartphone-and-social-media-users-have-broader-social-networks.

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Nokia to be first with Android 10

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Nokia is likely to be the first smartphone brand to roll out Android 10, after its manufacturer, HMD Global, announced that the Android 10 software upgrade would start in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Previously named Android Q, it was given the number after Google announced it was ditching sweet and dessert names due to confusion in different languages. Android 10 is due for release at the end of the year.

Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer of HMD Global said: “With a proven track record in delivering software updates fast, Nokia smartphones were the first whole portfolio to benefit from a 2-letter upgrade from Android Nougat to Android Oreo and then Android Pie. We were the fastest manufacturer to upgrade from Android Oreo to Android Pie across the range. 

“With today’s roll out plan we look set to do it even faster for Android Pie to Android 10 upgrades. We are the only manufacturer 100% committed to having the latest Android across the entire portfolio.”

HMD Global has given a guarantee that Nokia smartphone owners benefit from two years of OS upgrades and 3 years of security updates.

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