By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

We hear a lot these days about how marketers are using big data to personalize the ads we see online for places to shop, dine or travel. What you might not know is that the intersection of science and technology is empowering researchers to analyze big data to save lives.

To help move this research forward, the American Heart Association, in collaboration with Amazon Web Services, recently funded a trio of research studies which each will take a deep dive into massive stores of medical data. The goal: identify ways to reduce a person’s risk of developing or dying from a stroke or heart disease.

The three researchers who are leading these studies talked to AHA News about the health outcomes and lightbulb moments they hope to see from these grants.

Dr. David Kao, a cardiologist at the University of Colorado-Denver, intends to aggregate existing data collected from previous studies on treatments for heart failure. His research team will be looking for insights on how to help extend patients’ lives — and quality of life — by figuring out which treatments work — or don’t work — for different types of patients.

“The most important breakthrough we could discover,” Kao said, “would be to identify an effective therapy for at least some patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction” — a type of heart failure that affects the heart’s left ventricle. There are currently no effective medicines to treat this type of heart failure, which is seen in about half of all heart failure patients.

A second researcher, Dr. Jyotishman Pathak, a specialist in biomedical informatics at Weill-Cornell Medicine in New York City, will seek to identify and highlight clinical, genetic and environmental data that has been stored in electronic health records. He hopes this secondary use of existing health data will guide future research studies.

“The vision,” Pathak said, “is to harness the vast amounts of biomedical data to develop novel therapies that can be used to provide the right care to the right patient at the right time, every time.”

At The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Dr. Hua Xu, an expert in biomedical informatics, will build a “data discovery index” that can help researchers more efficiently find existing collections of cardiovascular data and reuse them to fast-track new breakthroughs.

“The type of data we are collecting is not just about genomics,” said Xu. He envisions the data discovery index will integrate requests of diverse types of data, be they genomics, proteomics (proteins that determine how genes behave), cellular, population-wide, or even archived images.

The three studies are among 13 data grants totaling $2 million that are being funded through the AHA’s Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine.

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.