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Big Data and Health Disparities

September 28, 2020

In September, The University of Kansas Cancer Center and Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center - Jefferson Health hosted a two-day symposium, The Big in Big Data: Breakthrough Discoveries, Disease Disparities, and Precision Medicine. The conference focused on the latest advancements in precision medicine and disease disparities.

According to Danny Welch, PhD, cancer center associate director for education and symposium co-host, the root causes of such disparities must be better understood in order to improve health equity. To help, researchers are increasingly looking to harness “big data” - massive sets of ever-growing information.

“Among those root causes are socioeconomic factors leading to limited access and quality of care. But there are emerging genetic differences that contribute as well,” he said. “Those genetic differences have become apparent after the advent of the capability to collect, and as importantly, analyze big data. It is transforming the way science is conducted.”

Big data offers many opportunities to pinpoint and reduce health disparities, and one goal of the symposium was to convene specialists in both fields. The program featured some of the cancer center’s nationally recognized leaders in rural health care delivery, including:

  • Hope Krebill, MSW, BSN, RN, executive director, Masonic Cancer Alliance (MCA), who spoke about engaging community cancer centers to accelerate research and improve health equity,
  • Gary Doolittle, MD, medical director, MCA, who discussed leveraging telemedicine to provide oncology care,
  • Nikki Nollen, PhD, co-leader, Cancer Prevention and Control research program, who discussed race differences and improving tobacco treatment outcomes in African American smokers, and
  • Dr. Welch, who spoke about a mouse model that mimics racial differences in development of metastasis.

“One of the most significant outcomes from this conference was the cross-pollination of fields,” Dr. Welch said. “We’ve already heard from researchers from around the country who are establishing new collaborations, which will accelerate progress toward better cancer control.”



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