• Harnessing Big Data in Neurosurgery: An Overview of the CNS Big Data Symposium

    Author: Jason M. Davies, MD PhD

    The 2017 CNS Annual Meeting will feature a brand new symposium to end the week with impact. The Big Data symposium on Wednesday, October 11, 2:45-4:15 pm, will explore how we might better use data and advanced analytic strategies to improve our understanding of neurosurgical disease, to evaluate and treat patients, and understand our outcomes. In the spirit of our theme, Transformation and Celebration, we call special attention to this session because this important topic will become timelier as ongoing health care systems pressures challenge providers to do more with less, to understand their outcomes, and to deliver value-based care.

    The symposium's keynote speaker, Dr. Leonard D'Avolio, embodies the spirit of the course. Dr. D'Avolio is assistant professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital and CEO/ co-founder of Cyft, a company using machine learning and advanced computational techniques to try to answer some of the biggest questions in health care in simple ways. Dr. D'Avolio's assertion is that big data will be medicine's next great breakthrough, with the potential to answer three fundamental questions that are vital to progress: What should we do; Are we doing it; And, can we do it better? Other industries ask these questions with their data routinely, but in medicine, these questions are difficult to confront due to barriers involving access to data and lack of incentive. However, the landscape is changing, and if we could use data in the same way other industries, perhaps we could make some real data-based breakthroughs.

    Dr. D'Avolio's quest is motivated by his personal story-his wife's cancer diagnosis forced him to find answers to questions and to ponder why we often do not have answers. This mission led him to develop a number of innovative projects that have spanned the globe, focusing on answering those three important questions in the context of real-life problems and patients. In the end, these projects have demonstrated data can save lives and has the potential to change the way we practice medicine.

    In addition to Dr. D'Avolio's keynote, the symposium will feature a number of eminent neurosurgeons who are pushing the boundaries where data meets medicine. Dr. Mohamad Bydon will provide an update on the Quality Outcomes Database and the lessons learned in organized neurosurgery's first large-scale foray into the realm of big data. Dr. Nicholas Marko will demonstrate how data science is vital to the science of genomics, and I will speak on how the use of machine learning can uncover unique insights into neurosurgical disease. Dr. Scott Parker will provide a roadmap for developing data-driven neurosurgical research programs. Finally, Dr. Matt Russell will give an overview of the future of collaboration between data scientists and health care providers.

    The thrust of the symposium is to motivate neurosurgeons to embrace data and appreciate that in its varied forms, it has the potential to enhance the science and practice of medicine in considerable way. Indeed, properly aligned data has the ability to save millions of lives, if we can just harness its power.

    This is a symposium worth staying for, so be sure to make you make your travel plans accordingly.


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