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Opportunities in Big Data related to Comparative Medicine and One Health

last modified May 20, 2015 05:43 PM
Simon Frost, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge

Opportunities in Big Data related to Comparative Medicine and One Health

Simon Frost
Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge

Humans are not the only animals, and there is much we can learn from non-humans, for example in terms of both noncommunicable and infectious disease, as well as in physiology, orthopaedics, etc.. In addition to non-human animals as model systems, veterinary medicine and human health are intertwined, as recognised by the growing 'One Health' agenda. The study of pathogen genomics, or more generally of the microbiome/virome, is largely independent of the host system. There have been many success stories of pathogens in different host systems, particularly in the context of zoonotic pathogens, many of which are emerging or re-emerging. It is where outcomes are dependent on the details of the host system that difficulties arise. For example, investigation of different mammalian species may be limited by the lack of good genomic annotation data, or the lack of a genome altogether, which presents obstacles in studies of cancer, as well as comparative immunology. In some cases, the potential for collecting big data is there, but has yet to be realised. This is particularly the case for veterinary medical informatics, which has exhibited extremely slow growth since its description by Talbot in 1991 relative to human medical informatics, despite the collection of data of similar modalities - haematological data, image data, and so on. There are also other sources of big data, such as the dynamics of infectious diseases in laboratory animal populations, which may offer insights into how to model the spread of infection in human populations, as well as the potential to harness mobile devices to gather health-related information. I will present a number of case studies of big data in non-human systems from ongoing work in the Department of Veterinary Medicine, including studies of antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic infections, and cancer, as well as our experiences in integrating veterinary medical record data for research purposes.