As we settle into the new year, a constant remains from 2014. We are still in a data-focused age, an epoch of innovation and information. We are focused on effective solutions and any method that will achieve that end. Television, radio, and especially the internet are all filled with advertisements and individuals claiming to have obtained new information, pushed a new limit, and achieved a new level of excellence. Sometimes this ingenuity is just jargon, but often it is the work of intelligent people unearthing creative answers. In the case of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong it is an interesting and optimistic foray into new realms of intelligence. Dr. Soon-Shiong is a multibillionaire, a surgeon, and a researcher at UCLA. He is well known for creating a drug for breast cancer called Abraxane, which greatly improved treatment prognoses. Dr. Soon-Shiong was recently interviewed on an episode of 60 Minutes, discussing his views on cancer research and treatment future. Dr. Soon-Shiong’s answers center around one aspect of research that is exponentially improving with time, that is, data.
Data is now more available than ever. It can be collected, stored, and examined in new and more effective ways every day. Previously, we posted about Google and the human genome project, and how improvements in storage space are opening many doors for researchers. This is the direction that Dr. Soon-Shiong’s research has taken him, and his predictions are enticing. Dr. Soon-Shiong believes that the cure for cancer will come from pure data. He and his team are inspecting the genomes of cancer cells, the makeup of every single cancer cell that they can obtain. They are meticulously cataloging and analyzing these cells, putting the genome into sequencing software and searching for connections, weaknesses, or anything enlightening. Dr. Soon-Shiong hopes that at some point in the near future it will be easy to disseminate this information through cancer cell genome databases. With these databases, doctors can more quickly identify the mutated cells and get rid of them precisely.
“We have been treating cancer all wrong,” Dr. Soon-Shiong proclaimed in his 60 Minutes interview. Instead of trying to specify treatment, trying to figure out the precise type of cancer and individualizing the treatment used on that area of the body with that type of cancer, Dr. Soon-Shiong believes that cancer should be looked at more cohesively. A treatment that works on one type of cancer has a high chance of working elsewhere, he believes, and he’s acting on it, putting his breast-cancer drug Abraxane through trials to be approved to fight lung, melanoma, gastric, and pancreatic cancer. Cancer should be looked at on a large scale and attacked from every possible angle, and Dr. Soon-Shiong outlined his plans for each angle of attack. Some are still lacking technology or data necessary for implementation, but it is not a creativity or innovation shortage which inhibits cancer’s demise. Instead, it is only data which we need to begin the process of controlling and then eliminating cancer completely.
Most of today’s adults were born, raised, and educated in the information age. As a society we are firmly planted in a mindset of technology and innovation. In the healthcare realm, this is invaluable. In attacking and eliminating disease, especially one as prevalent and aggressive as cancer, technology and innovation are research necessities. But neither can do very much if they don’t have data to work with, to process, and to use as a launch pad for innovation. As the ability to process and store data grows, researchers like Dr. Soon-Shiong will be able to reach unfathomable conclusions. The realm of mobile healthcare is a vital area, consistently perpetuating, legitimizing, and motivating the advance of data.