Combining the tools of Big Data analysis and visualization with the vast amounts of data generated by social media, a group of scientists from Indiana University has started to tackle new areas of health research.
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"We try to find the commonality between biological, social, and technological networks, and the internet. Previous studies -- whether in hospitals or by sociologists -- could handle only 20, 30 or 40 patients in a study," said Luis Rocha, principal investigator of the Complex Adaptive Systems and Computational Intelligence (CASCI) group at Indiana University.
"Software is now driving our research, so through social media we can plug into millions and millions of people worldwide with very different types of conditions. This helps us tap into the psychological and social elements of healthcare, making this a major game changer," Rocha said.
The researchers partnered with Pune-based Persistent Systems, a provider of large-scale software-driven healthcare solutions, to develop sophisticated algorithms to analyze the connection between medicine and social behavior in health issues, particularly how they are discussed across social media.
For example, in looking at the analysis of depression, millions of posts are first analyzed based on defined hashtags with the relevant drug names across social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.
The algorithms find connections on how drugs interact with each other, and how people are describing them, while also looking for clusters of symptoms at a scale not previously possible.
Identifying and validating new clusters of drugs, natural products and symptoms can act as an early warning system for adverse drug effects and interactions.
The methodology also allows the study of multiple health issues with distinct social attitudes, such as depression and epilepsy.
Another goal is to allow health specialists to visualize and interact with the data in three dimensions, allowing them to study cohort and individual behaviours in much detail in a virtual reality setting.
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"Tapping into the scale of social networks offers an incredible source of consumer and patient data, opening up a whole new type of software-driven solution," Sid Chatterjee, Chief Technology Officer at Persistent Systems, said.