Big Data In Healthcare - could it be the key to solving diabetes?

Striving for a better understanding of diabetes


27 March 2018

Diabetes is a huge and growing problem. As it stands, there are over 400 million adults in the world who live with Type 2 diabetes, of which 90% are also obese.

Obesity puts pressure on the human body’s ability to process insulin, used to control blood sugar levels, which can result in developing type 2 diabetes.

The AXA Research Fund has been supporting the academic research of Dr. Alessandra Petrelli at San Rafaelle Università Vita-Salute exploring the link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

“By 2030 1 adult out of 5 will be obese.”

Dr. Alessandra Petrelli, Clinical Immunologist, San Rafaelle Università Vita-Salute

In her research Dr. Petrelli investigates if obese patients are more prone to diabetes because their immune system works differently. In the human body, T-cells (a kind of white blood cell) are responsible for keeping the immune system in check. In obese people, these T-cells are found to be altered and that could be why their bodies process insulin differently.

But the research doesn’t stop there. Working with some of the sharpest minds in science, researchers are discovering ways to use Big Data to help identify what leads people to become obese and develop diabetes.

But what is Big Data and how can it help?

Two men cycling around a track

Big Data is simply a vast collection of information that comes from multiple sources in multiple formats. Big Data can come from healthcare records, prescriptions, patient statistics, economic data and even the information stored on health wearables and fitness trackers. All this information is then used by researchers to make observations, draw insights and find relationships between multiple variables.

Professor Helen Colhoun, the AXA Chair at the University of Edinburgh, is investigating how we can use Big Data to better understand how people develop diabetes. By examining modern and digital data collection she is certain we can start to find the links and trends to gain a deeper understanding of how diabetes works and develop better treatment.

Watch our short video which dives deeper into how we're striving to better understand diabetes.

To learn more about Professor Helen Colhoun’s approach watch our short interview.

For practical advice on living with diabetes visit our Diabetes Centre.

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