- By Dana Sparks
Science Saturday: Developing a digital bloodhound
Mayo Clinic student uses data analysis to power a round-the-clock stakeout for sepsis.
Andrew Harrison could have been a musician or a physicist or a biologist. But he fell for medicine and clinical informatics: using systems to organize data to improve care for patients. “I love it,” he says. And patients will too. Because although he followed an unconventional route in his training, Harrison is a prototype for medical students trained to heal both patients and the health care system.
As an example of what clinical informatics can do, while still a student in Mayo Clinic’s Medical Scientist Training Program, Harrison helped refine a computerized tool to detect a potentially life-threatening response to infection called sepsis. With some infections, chemical alerts flood the bloodstream. They trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body, instead of at the sight of infection. These systemic responses can damage organs and lead to severe blood pressure drops.
More people in the U.S. die from sepsis each year than from breast cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sepsis kills a quarter million patients annually, out of 1.5 million diagnosed.
With sepsis, doctors must treat patients quickly or the syndrome can worsen, leading to long-term complications or death. To do that, they needed a tool to help identify early-stage sepsis patients in the emergency room. Harrison was part of a team of physician-scientists who developed a computer application designed to “sniff out” patients with sepsis. To play his part, he called on the variety of skills he amassed prior to his medical training. Read the rest of the article on Discovery's Edge.
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