Category Archives: News

Smartphones and wearable devices could revolutionise medical care for people with brain disorders

CachedImage.axdNew collaborative research programme will explore potential of wearable devices to help prevent and treat depression, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy

A major new research programme supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) launches today [26 April], which will develop new ways of monitoring major depressive disorder, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis using wearable devices and smartphone technology.

The RADAR-CNS (Remote assessment of disease and relapse – Central Nervous System) programme aims to improve patients’ symptoms and quality of life and also to change how these and other chronic disorders are treated.

Continuous remote assessment using smartphones and wearable devices provides a complete picture of a patient’s condition at a level of detail which was previously unachievable. Moreover, it could potentially allow treatment to begin before a patient’s health deteriorates, preventing the patient relapsing or becoming more ill before they seek treatment.

RADAR-CNS is jointly led by King’s College London and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (a Public Private Partnership established between the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the European Union) and includes 24 organisations from across Europe and the US. The programme brings together experts from diverse fields including clinical research, engineering, computer science, information technology, data analytics and health services.

Epilepsy, depression, and multiple sclerosis are distinct disorders, with different causes and symptoms, all of which can be severely detrimental to patients’ quality of life and life expectancy. For all three disorders, patients often experience periods where their symptoms are manageable, followed by periods of deterioration and acute illness (relapse). Patient surveys have repeatedly highlighted the need to predict when relapses will happen and to improve the treatments which are available to stop them from occurring.

According to co-lead of the RADAR-CNS programme Professor Matthew Hotopf, Director of the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre in London, UK, “In recent years, the quality and quantity of data that we can collect using wearable devices and smartphones has exploded. It may be that this sort of data can improve clinical care simply by providing more accurate information. Better still, it may be possible to spot when a patient is getting into trouble before their clinic visit.”

“For example, in depression, someone’s behaviour may change even before they have noticed they are struggling – their sleep may get worse, or they may stop doing so much in the weeks leading up to a relapse. RADAR-CNS will exploit the huge potential of wearable monitoring technologies to improve the lives of the millions of people worldwide with chronic illnesses like epilepsy, depression and multiple sclerosis.”

Patients will be involved in RADAR-CNS from the start, helping to identify the most important symptoms to target. They will also advise researchers on how best to implement remote measurement technologies in a way that is acceptable and engaging to patients, including accounting for privacy and security.

Wherever possible, RADAR-CNS will use inexpensive and widely available technology, so that the end results can be made available to as many patients as possible. The research will also be developed in a way that allows the results to be transferred to other diseases, potentially allowing the benefits of remote measurement technologies to become pervasive in medicine, and transforming the way we think about prevention and cure.

According to co-lead of the RADAR-CNS programme Vaibhav Narayan, PhD, Head of Integrated Solutions and Informatics, Neuroscience, Janssen Research & Development, LLC, an affiliate of Janssen Pharmaceutica, “Our goal is to improve clinical care and outcomes by using data generated by patients as they go about their daily lives to predict and pre-empt relapses and improve their quality of life. Such ‘predictive medicine’ solutions will be backed by scientific evidence and will meet regulatory standards. At the same time, the privacy and security of patients and their care-givers will be fully protected.”


Despite potential benefits, big data faces resistance in healthcare

Science Business article on big data in health quotes Dr Richard Dobson:

Big data has the potential to transform the operation of Europe’s healthcare systems, radically improving treatments, underpinning public health initiatives and making constrained budgets stretch further.

But as ever, the pace of technical development is ahead of societal acceptance, and the ability to adopt and reap the benefits of big data is currently constrained by the inherent conservatism of health services.

To take one case in point, there are concerns that the advanced monitoring capabilities implicit in big data would mean health insurance could become a mirror image of motor insurance. People with no ‘health claims’ would pay lower premiums than those who are accident –prone or suffer from a chronic disease.

“We have a strong tradition of social welfare here in Europe. But with this new focus on health data, money and power is going to be re-allocated,” said Bart De Moor, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at KU Leuven, speaking at the recent Science|Business conference on Big Data in Health.

“Suddenly we’re demanding a change of the whole system,” De Moor said. “With change, comes resistance; social disruption always follows tech disruption.”

Physicians too, have concerns about the level of oversight that is enabled by big data techniques. In the same way as it becomes possible to better monitor patients, it is also possible to more closely track the performance of healthcare staff. “You can use big data to evaluate the work of nurses for instance,” said De Moor.

In parallel with concerns about these ‘big brother’ aspects, many in the healthcare profession lack the resources to adopt big data technologies, said Richard Dobson, head of bioinformatics at King’s College London. Even though it is recognised big data can provide more insight into specific diseases, doctors lack the time or capacity to apply it. “I’ve been trying to put small innovations in computers into hospitals for five years,” Dobson said.

One or more of these reasons are holding back the development of the market and many innovators are finding it hard to sell to hospitals, according to Irene Lopez de Vallejo, director of R&D at the UK’s Digital Catapult centre, which is responsible for helping companies to commercialise big data innovations.

“You’re a small business with good ideas,” but there are so many administrative hoops to jump through that it is practically impossible to persuade hospitals to change, she said.

Concerns may be overblown

The potential benefits are so great that these teething problems will be overcome, believes Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, Director of health within the European Commission’s directorate for Research and Innovation. Once that happens there will be widespread adoption, Draghia-Akli said, adding, “Big data means better data.”

Wearable devices and smart phone health apps, such as pedometers, heart rate monitors or calorie intake counters, will empower people to look after their own health and manage long-term conditions.

Exploiting such advances is a necessity, given the economic pressures facing healthcare. “We can use big data to help prevention at a time when a lot of Europe’s healthcare systems are approaching bankruptcy,” Draghia-Akli said.

Xavier Prats Monné, the Commission’s Director-General for Health and Food Safety agreed. “There’s a lot of handwringing about big data and what it means for privacy,” he said. “But more than ever, we need greater capacities [for our] health systems.”

Reports sometimes over-estimate the mistrust of big data among Europeans, Prats Monné, suggested, saying, “I don’t recall ever seeing a headline in Spain presenting data privacy as a major concern of citizens.” Rather, he said, “Big data provides the drive for greater transparency.”

In Europe, companies and health care systems must comply with European law covering the secure storage and transfer of electronic data. Compared to the US, patients in Europe are given more control over what personal information is collected.

The recently strengthened EU data protection rules set down further precautions. This should, “give greater reassurance to the public”, said German MEP, Axel Voss.

On top of that, registries are filled with health data “bound by national laws. Patients sign a consent form so they know what their data will be used for,” said Robert Hyde, senior director of global medical affairs at Biogen.
Sharing digital health records a good thing

The pooling of medical records has already demonstrated its value in the field of rare diseases, and has the power to inform the development of new treatments and public health interventions in common diseases too.

As one example, Draghia-Akli cited the number of pooled databases and shared information sources that are being developed and deployed in the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). In one IMI project, Newmeds, nine pharma companies have pooled data from clinical trials involving 35,000 schizophrenia patients.

“It makes sense to share like this,” Draghia-Akli said. “Based on the knowledge gained, the project was able to convince regulators that clinical trials could be shorter and include fewer patients.”

This sharing message needs to go further, said De Moor, calling for a greater effort from technologists and healthcare workers to broadcast the benefits of new data technologies. “You have to show with case studies that healthcare really can be improved with big data,” he said. “It might be more difficult, and take longer, but it’s the only way to get the population onside.”


Innovations in mental health – Tech Weekly podcast

Guardian podcast: how technology is being increasingly used to treat mental illness.

From Fitbits that monitor the sleep patterns of patients with schizophrenia and apps that help you manage your mood to online therapy sessions, tech is increasingly being seen as a viable alternative to traditional health and wellbeing techniques.

But is it too good to be true? What are the benefits, and what are the risks?

Nathalie Nahai is joined to discuss by psychotherapist Gillian Isaacs Russell, author of new book Screen Relations: The Limits of Computer-Mediated Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy; Dr Richard Dobson from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health and the Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research; psychologist and author Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic; and the Guardian tech team’s Hannah Jane-Parkinson.

Rosalind Franklin honoured in launch of state-of-the-art computing facility


Original article here

A new high performance computing (HPC) facility has been unveiled by scientists in London, which will allow the large-scale analysis of research data on an unprecedented scale – from sources as diverse as DNA samples to fitbits and health apps.

The new facility is named after Dr Rosalind Franklin, who did vital work on the structure of DNA at King’s College London in the 1940s and 50s. It will allow researchers to analyse data more quickly, efficiently, and on a larger scale than was previously possible.

The HPC facility is designed to empower the scientific community by making available to them a modern IT infrastructure that will enable analysis of huge volumes of genetics and other molecular data from human samples. This will help to accelerate translational research while also providing the basis for the implementation of customised medicine programmes for patients (where medical decisions, practices, and/or products are tailored to the individual patient).

Three organisations have worked together to fund and create Rosalind: NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research CentreNIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre; and King’s College London. All three organisations are part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Science Centre. Funding was also provided by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.

Powerful technology and infrastructure is needed to ensure that the vast quantity of data being generated by research projects across the country can be managed effectively and understood.  ‘Big data’ projects are now being generated from sources as diverse as clinical records, wearable technology, social networks, and brain imaging studies. The speed, versatility, and increased capacity of Rosalind is set to enhance research in the UK across a wide range of disciplines.

Professor Graham Lord, Director of the BRC at Guy’s and St Thomas’, comments: “Quick and early diagnosis of diseases is an important aim of our research. Rosalind breaks new ground by helping us analyse greater volumes of genomics data than ever before.  Over the last five years there have been tremendous improvements in technology which mean we are now able to scale volumes of genomics data being collected. Before Rosalind, if we wanted to analyse the data from 500 DNA samples it would have taken us approximately six months, now with the launch of Rosalind it will take only a week.

“The work undertaken by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins at King’s College London and Watson and Crick at Cambridge was fundamental to understanding the structure of DNA.  The molecule’s structure was key to appreciating its role encoding the blueprint for life, and it is fitting that this system – which will help researchers to better understand that encoded information – is named after one of the pioneers of the genetic era.”

Michael Luck, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at King’s College London says: “In addition to research in health, this new facility provides a resource to cover research activity in basic sciences, including the simulation of materials, the computational modelling of biomolecular phenomena, and bioinformatics and big data research more generally. This will be an asset for fundamental data-driven research in physics, chemistry, computer science, engineering and mathematics.”

Professor Matthew Hotopf, Director of the South London and Maudsley BRC, adds: “The launch of Rosalind is the result of an extraordinary collaboration between some of London’s leading academic and health organisations.  This collaboration will enable us to break new ground in health research – Rosalind gives us the capacity to analyse an unprecedented range and volume of clinical data, from the individual molecules present in a patient’s blood or DNA, to long-term data on their physical and mental health.

“The result is research projects which span the entire journey from basic clinical research to effective treatments for patients – and the unique partnership of organisations involved in this project means that we will be doing so quicker, smarter, and more efficiently than ever before.”

CompBio-Docker Symposium 2015

Bio In Docker Conference

Event Page [Bio In Docker]

Kings College London and the Biomedical Research Centre will be running a 2 day Docker in Bioinformatics event towards the end of summer 2015.

We are opening a call for speakers using Docker in bioinformatics to come and talk about their work.

Docker is now establishing itself as the de facto solution for containerization across a wide range of domains. The advantages are attractive, from reproducible research to simplifying deployment of complex code. Several bioinformatics groups are now utilizing this for various purposes, we would like to bring together some notable cases to discuss how advantage of this new technology can best be achieved.

At KCL, our group are presently using Docker to encapsulate our Next Generation Sequencing pipeline tools, our aim is to provide up-to-date containers for the most commonly used tools, benchmarking data and provide a framework to string these containerized tools into pipelines which can easily be deployed anywhere. The project is called NGSeasy

We propose the 2 day event to include:

  • A day of talks from selected speakers
    • Feature talks
    • Lightning talks
  • We would also like to identify where common goals exist in the bioinformatics arena where efforts in containerized solutions could be aligned by establishing a community of Docker users and resources (with a similar function to that of Bioconductor for R). This could include:
    • Communal repositories
    • Documentation and tutorials
    • Forums
  • Running a mini-hackday to introduce, demonstrate, and invite participation using Docker on some interesting and well scoped problems.