Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) has hosted an expert session about ‘Big Data’ as part of its landmark TECHtalk series. Entitled ‘Big Data Analytics: Revolutionising Healthcare’, the series aims to address the importance of data analytics in changing the face of modern healthcare and fostering technological advancement in the fields of ICT and Health.

The Techtalk proposed recommendations to unify data in order to benefit medical practitioners and stakeholders. It was suggested that this approach would enable them to optimise useful information, thereby enhancing the creation of technologies and accessible services, and aiding the customisation of medical treatment.

Commenting on the subject, and QSTP’s role in bringing together industry experts to inspire further technological research and innovation, Hamad Al Kuwari, QSTP’s Managing Director, said: “QSTP’s TECHtalk series lies at the core of creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Qatar through fostering the exchange of expertise, knowledge and creativity on technological advancement and commercialisation of ideas. The series is particularly important to identifying the very essential needs of the local market and creating tailored, sustainable solutions through applying various technology-based solutions.”

Mr Al Kuwari continued: “Big Data analytics, as perpetually observed around world, is becoming increasingly vital for businesses, institutions and individuals to make smart and efficient decisions, especially in an area as important as healthcare. We, along with our esteemed stakeholders within and outside Qatar Foundation, endeavour to create as much understanding of this concept as possible, while at the same time provide the necessary tools for interested parties to get engaged in relevant practice.”

The panel discussion was attended by numerous seasoned experts who came together from an array of pioneering institutions. Guest speaker Dr Michele Ceccarelli, Acting Research Director of Bioinformatics at Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), presented his work on cancer genomics, which encompasses developing novel tools and algorithms for gene expression data analysis, gene network analysis, and identification of structural genomics alteration.
According to Dr Ceccarelli, the average hospital generates an estimated 665TB of data annually, yet 80 per cent of this data currently remains unstructured. Looking at how Big Data is transforming medicine, a collection of large and complex data sets are difficult to process using common database management tools or traditional data processing applications.

Technology solutions are therefore required in the areas of data analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualisation, querying and information privacy. To this end, the need to use Big Data correctly in healthcare and biomedical research is tightly connected to the importance of integrating all sources of medical information through the right technology.

In his presentation, Dr Ceccarelli highlighted that the importance of Big Data lies not only in the access to data, but how to make sense of this data. This requires new methods and tools of analyses to be continually developed and updated.

Furthermore, he noted that some of the key challenges in Big Data that experts face include the pre-processing and data normalisation, data integration, higher order methods and reproducibility research, as well as the development of rigorous quantitative and statistical methods. Identifying contemporary sources of big data in health and medicine, the Professor listed drug research, genomics, patient records, social media, diagnostic test and home monitoring as some possible ones.

Dr Joel Malek, Director of Genomics Core at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), an expert on Next-Generation DNA sequencing technologies, insisted on the importance of identifying statistically meaningful resources that help with early detection of cancer rather than stratification of cancer patients. He said it is essential to address the hindrances to data immigration to ensure studied data is statistically correct and significant.

Mr Bilal Sabbagh, Healthcare Associate Partner at IBM Middle East & Africa, continued, saying that it is no longer just about genes, but also about social behavioural patterns that define how diseases are taken in and reacted to.

Mr Malike Bouaoud, Head of Technology Trend and Smart Innovation at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, discussed the digital transformation taking place around the world, and the need to adapt the technology not only to quantifiable data and statistics but also to changing human lifestyle.