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Accelerating Intuition

Reynders identifies the big challenges for informatics.

By Catherine Varmazis

June 10, 2008 | BOSTON—Both integration and convergence will have profound implications for informatics and the future of personalized medicine, said John Reynders in his keynote at the Bio-IT World Conference & Expo. 

Reynders, VP, CIO at Johnson & Johnson (J&J), said the “insane” amount of data being generated in the life sciences, and its heterogeneity, require new ways of working with people. Reynders identified four layers of convergence that are occurring or have yet to happen: converge the data; converge information semantically; converge people; and converge knowledge to lead to reasoning capability.

Converge the Data
The first convergence layer involves the capture, processing, filtering, and management of data. Massive amounts of data create storage challenges that can leave researchers “data-rich but information-poor.” Hierarchical approaches to data storage are needed because, “we can’t keep all the data all the time.” Such approaches involve not just technology solutions but also business models. For example, if you temporarily need a petabyte of storage, do you have the option to lease it? This concept goes by various terms, but “cloud computing” is the latest buzzword. Reynders argued that we must find ways to temporarily store vast amounts of data, mine it, extract what we need, and then “drain the pool” and start over.

Find Meaningful Connections
Data exponentials are growing in two dimensions—size and scale—as well as in terms of heterogeneity, said Reynders. The challenge facing biomedical scientists is how to converge all this data semantically and find meaningful connections between different kinds of data. Traditional means of finding semantic relationship in text data include latent semantic indexing (LSI) and natural language processing (NLP). While useful, Reynders said such tools do not serve the desired purpose, as we’re now storing all kinds of data, including text, compounds, and genetic data.

Ontologies are promising platforms for forming semantic relationships, he said, but only get you so far. “Not only do we have an immense amount of data, but the data is very heterogeneous.”

“Some of the algorithms that are needed for this very heterogeneous data integration, which typically go beyond ontology to a very large graph-type problem, are very relevant to our challenges,” he said. “It’s not enough that we can navigate in one of these domains because you cannot find those connections if you’re only looking at one class of information.”

Open Innovation
Reynders’ third layer of convergence is that of converging people. “Where is the MySpace for scientists? Or that in silico watering hole where clinicians can share their ideas?” he asked. J&J, for example, has built the LINK (Leverage INternal Knowledge) expert locator system to enable collaboration among 14,000 enrollees across far-flung J&J subsidiaries. NineSigma lets seekers post RFPs and solvers bid against them. Your Encore is a space for retired scientists and engineers who want to get back to solving problems. Online IP markets such as help innovators who have great ideas navigate all the steps of locking down their IP.

“More and more often, innovation will be coming from outside the organization,” he said, “so paying close attention to how these open innovation models are evolving is going to be very critical to all of us.”

Reasoning Layer: Accelerate Intuition
It was surprising to hear Reynders assert that one bottleneck in convergence is the human brain. Yet Reynders predicted that doctors and clinicians of the future will need the very best digital reasoning capacity available to help them sort through immense amounts of heterogeneous information to find the needle in the haystack. That reasoning layer will be the final layer, he said. It involves connecting information and forming neural circuitry between concepts that can be traversed by any kind of reasoning platform.

“We can’t even start to think about the next layer until this capacity has been formed,” Reynders concluded. “This kind of convergence in the future—Ah, it gets exciting.”   


 This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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