Doctors store 1,600 digital hearts for big data study

Doctors in London have stored 1,600 beating human hearts in digital form on a computer. The aim is to develop new treatments by comparing the detailed information on the hearts and the patients’ genes. The project is the latest which makes use of advances in storing large amounts of information.
The study is among a wave of new "big data" projects that are transforming the way in which research is carried out. Researchers at Medical Research Council’s Clinical Sciences Centre at Hammersmith Hospital are scanning detailed 3-D videos of the hearts of 1,600 patients and collecting genetic information from each volunteer.
Dr Declan O’Regan who is involved in the heart study said that this new approach had the potential to reveal much more than normal clinical trials in which relatively small amounts of health information is collected from patients over the course of several years.
He said: "There is a really complicated relationship between people’s genes and heart disease and we are still trying to unravel what that is. But by getting really clear 3-D pictures of the heart we hope to be able to get a much better understanding of the cause and effect of heart disease and give the right patients the right treatment at the right time."
The idea of storing so much information on so many hearts is to compare them and to see what the common factors are that lead to illnesses. Dr O’Regan believes that this kind of analysis will increasingly become the norm in medicine. "There are often subtle signs of early disease that are really difficult to pick up even if you know what to look for. A computer is very sensitive to picking up subtle signs of a disease before they become a problem".