Penn State launches big data project to drive population health, personalized medicine research

A team of researchers at Pennsylvania State University are laying the groundwork for large-scale population health investigations through a new data project, the university announced Feb. 6.

The interdisciplinary project, dubbed the Digital Collaboratory for Precision Health Research, will bring together clinical, environmental and socioeconomic datasets from various partner institutions on a shared platform. Once launched, researchers with approved projects will be able access the platform to integrate and analyze relevant data.

The research team envisions approved projects will center on understanding how health problems affect different demographics. For example, the platform may provide data to researchers with projects investigating whether the rising rate of U.S. obesity is linked to community factors, such as a patient's distance from a grocery store or access to walkable streets.

While research using the Digital Collaboratory for Precision Health Research platform will focus on macro-level trends, its organizers emphasized these studies will have implications for personalized medicine.

"We are a product of our genes, behavior and environment," said Vasant Honavar, PhD, the project lead and chair of the university's college of information sciences and technology. "In order to improve health, we need to look beyond treating individuals who are sick and need to understand the underlying genetic, environmental and behavioral factors so we can develop effective interventions."

To establish the Digital Collaboratory for Precision Health Research, the research team will draw on expertise from across the university, including its center for big data analytics and discovery informatics, college of medicine, institute for cyberscience, college of engineering, and social science research institute, among other departments.

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