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Emerging Research: Using Bioinformatics to Harness Big Data

Big data. It’s become a buzzword, sure, but it’s also an incredibly complex issue, solutions to which will shape the future of health care. How can the massive amounts of data generated by research be harnessed to better understand life-threatening disease? How can effective application of this data improve treatment outcomes for individual patients? Thanks to support from the Woman’s Board, clinicians and researchers at Rush may soon find out.

Over the last decade, health care informatics technology, such as the electronic medical record, has made possible advances that many years ago seemed unimaginable. Today, the millions of gigabytes of data generated by these new technologies hold the answers to the most fundamental medical questions. The challenge for academic medical centers, like Rush, is managing the vast volumes of data they produce and finding ways to organize and analyze the data, to result in improved patient care outcomes.

The ability to isolate specific genes empowers clinicians to precisely tailor interventions to meet a specific patient’s needs. At the same time, the study of large populations is providing new clues about the effects of environment, nutrition and a whole host of other factors on overall health. Both of these approaches are critical to tackling diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, but they require sophisticated mathematical techniques and databases to store, organize and make sense of the data — a process called bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics enables truly individualized, personalized care by identifying unique characteristics and arming clinicians with enough information to precisely design interventions to match those unique needs. 

A recent commitment from the Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center will propel Rush toward the future of medicine by supporting the development of the Rush Cancer Bioinformatics Program. The Woman’s Board will provide initial funding to purchase the equipment to house the new data generated by this work and the software to process the data. Ultimately, this investment will lead to the discovery of new biological markers to make treatment more successful and, most important, find new ways to personalize the care we provide. 

To learn more about this project, contact Michelle Boardman at (312) 942-6884 or

Read on for more Rush philanthropy news.

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