Darwin, Wellness and Big Data

By David Kyne

July 18, 2018

July 18, 2018 – Today’s sessions at the ISTH conference in Dublin reviewed our past to look toward the future, but it went beyond hemophilia and thrombosis.

Firstly, this conference began by observing our ongoing evolution as a species and examining how that knowledge can help inform our future scientific research. For example, did you know that a single bone fragment found from ancient ancestors led to us understanding why Tibetans are at less risk of thrombosis at altitude than other populations? This was a topic I caught up with Glenn Pierce about today as we reflected on the fascinating opening session focused on genomic approaches to understanding disease. Prof Gianpiero Cavalleri, of @Royal College of Surgeons Ireland spoke about how linking ancient genomic data and data from special populations (e.g. populations living at altitude) is informing genetic risk factors and research. The example he showcased, was of the Tibetan and the Andean people, both of which have lived at high altitude for generations. Gianpiero remarked that those of Tibetan descent typically staved off getting chronic mountain sickness and thrombosis, where the Andeans would often fall ill. Through DNA analysis of a single finger bone found in a Siberian cave researchers discovered that this advantageous capability had been passed on genetically from the ancient Denisovans and was unique to this population of Tibetans. Cavalleri shows how genomic approaches to research can improve our understanding of disease how it can manifest in individuals.

Another big takeaway from today was that big data and wellness are increasingly important in informing research and treating disease. “Scientific wellness will be key to the future identification of diseases, particularly in early stages.” In the first session of the day entitled ‘Big Data and Its Influence on Research’ Nathan Price of the Institute for Systems Biology spoke about the huge benefit of building robust data clouds on individuals to optimise health and drive discovery. By harnessing personal, dense, and dynamic data sets for individuals, human health and diagnostics can become more manageable and effective. Price, highlighted the need to quantify wellness and demystify disease – harnessing well-rounded data from populations is the first step.

So as we continue our evolutionary journey, looking scientifically at our past may hold more secrets than we know about our future.