How Individualized Medical Geographic Information Systems and Big Data will Transform Healthcare

The modern healthcare system is experiencing a significant disruptive change consistent with the technological shifts that have altered the communications, publishing, travel, and banking industries. The roots of this transformation can be found across many topics including the Quantified Self movement, mobile technology platforms, wearable computing, and rapid advances in genomic and precision medicine.

Here are some conclusions and thoughts following a seminar held last week at the Institute of Systems Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Dr. Steven Tucker, MD, shared his view of how individualised medical Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will transform medicine:

“This is a medical Geographical Information Systems, compared to a Google map of the individual. We can do this with biology and health”.

Dr. Tucker presenting the medical Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
Dr. Tucker presenting the medical Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

There’s much more to it than just collecting data points from your mobile phone or from a wearable device:

“Your DNA plus your bacteria and your epigenome (a record of the chemical changes to the DNA and histone proteins of an organism) exposures, protein and unique appearance go to making you a unique biological individual. We are not in a standard distribution anymore… That is transformative” said Dr. Tucker.

These singular, individual data and information set up a remarkable and unprecedented opportunity to improve medical treatment and develop preventive strategies to preserve health.

But how is this related to Big Data?

Michael Snyder of Stanford University was one of the first humans to have such a construct made of himself. Snyder had not only gene expression analysed, but also proteomic and metabalomic sequencing as well, as described in Topol’s recent article in Cell, “Individualized Medicine from Prewomb to Tomb” (March 27, 2014).


The procedure required one Terabyte of storage for the DNA sequence, two Terabytes for the epigenomic data, and three Terabytes for the microbiome, the article said. Storage requirements grow quickly to one Petaybytes (1,000 Terabytes) for 100 people, so do the math of how many Petabytes of storage are required for storing the individual data of millions of people.

“The longer you can follow a person, the more you’ll learn about their health states, the more you can do to help them stay healthy. That’s the way it should be.” (Michael Snyder, Making It Personal).

Comments, questions?

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