October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As we close out the month, researchers have shared some good news at the OncoArray Consortium, which includes an international team of 550 researchers across six continents. This group of scientists and doctors has discovered 65 new genetic mutations that are common in women with breast cancer, bringing the total number of variants to almost 180. This means that women now have even greater insights into their risk for breast cancer, and based upon their own genetic sequence, can determine if mammography screening is needed earlier in life. While not a silver bullet, these genetic mutations can offer some warning signs for early detection and treatment.
How is this relevant to information technology and big data? The short answer: this story is equal parts business technology breakthrough and personal hope – not just for me but for many.
This is the reality of what big data analytics promises: discovering small insights across mountains of data, to open new possibilities.
In this case, the study was conducted using a very large sample size of over 300,000 women. Among all those women, researchers measured DNA at over 10 million sites across the genome, according to Professor Peter Kraft of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and one of the authors of the study. “At each of these sites, we asked whether the DNA sequence in women with breast cancer was different than that in women without,” said Kraft. “Because our study was so large, we could detect subtle differences between these two groups of women and ensure these differences were not due to chance.”
This represents the benefits that big data analytics can deliver: hundreds of scientists from around the world worked with thousands of women analyzing millions of strands of DNA to produce 65 clues that could improve the outcomes for an untold number of potential breast cancer patients.
The study cited above required the convergence of multiple streams of structured and unstructured data across a large sample size. An Enterprise Data Warehouse is ideally suited to enable searches of millions of data records to make connections between disparate data points. While we at ViON don’t know the first thing about sequencing a genome, we do know about managing your data to uncover insights.
A story like this extends beyond the business of data to the impact the data itself can have on the world. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45 and thankfully, because she was diligent in getting regular mammograms, it was detected early and she recovered fully with minimally invasive treatment. Not everyone is so fortunate. That’s why stories like this are cause for celebration on all fronts. It is particularly rewarding when you see the impact of technology on a professional level and the outcomes personally.
Harnessing the power of data leads to genetic insights and increases the odds of early detection. And as studies uncover new patterns and variants, the odds skew more and more in favor of the patient. Breast Cancer Awareness month is coming to an end, but thanks to the work that so many do every day we are wearing pink to honor more and more survivors.