Soccer team in a huddle

Living Longer, Better, Healthier—Thanks to Technology

December 8, 2015 by Steve Lucas 30

What do diabetes, cancer and the Notre Dame Soccer team have in common? Well I’m about to tell you!

Some of the scariest words a person can hear from their physician are the words cancer or diabetes. In the case of diabetes, I can almost guarantee that every person reading this either has a family member with diabetes or knows someone who does.

I am one of those people with type-1 diabetes, (the more rare form of diabetes) which along with type-2 diabetes affects almost 30 million Americans. While I’ve had this immune disorder for nearly 20 years, for the past five years I have been able to automatically measure my blood sugar every one to five minutes, which has radically improved how I manage my diabetes. How? Through the Internet of Things! I wear a sensor on my body that constantly monitors my blood sugar and warns me if my levels are too high or too low—this can literally make the difference between living and dying. I can even share the blood sugar data from my sensor with my doctor and family over the Internet, through my cell phone.

This past year alone, I’ve received more than 5,000 high or low alerts and collected more than half a million rows of data about my blood sugar. (Coincidentally, I will have to take around 3,000 insulin injections this year to adjust my blood sugar accordingly – but knowledge is power and I am able to control my diabetes at near normal, non-diabetic levels thanks to this technology!) I am absolutely amazed by how technology is continually changing and improving the way we treat, and in some cases prevent, diseases based on the analysis of personal and aggregated medical data collected on a global scale. I like to tell people that “I am the Internet of Things!”

Imagine what we could achieve if we were to combine my blood sugar readings with anonymized data from the other 30 million people in the US dealing with diabetes, then better understand it using sophisticated analysis and data mining technology (like SAP HANA!) to identify patterns, trends, and even root causes that could be used to better tailor treatment plans to the patient. Health care professionals could use this information to not just treat symptoms of the disorder, but address the problem head on. It is incredibly powerful to know that someone on the other side of the world could benefit from me sharing my personal medical data in order to live a longer and healthier life.

With this in mind, I want to share another story of a truly inspiring individual. My SAP colleague, Franz Deitering, has been battling cancer since 2008 when doctors discovered a walnut-sized tumor in his intestine.

Franz feels okay now, but he wants to take steps to make sure he has defeated cancer for good and there will be no recurrence.

Last November, he read about an SAP-sponsored program called COPE (Corporate Oncology Program for Employees), and seized the opportunity to enroll, after discussing it with his doctor, Professor Dirk Jaeger from the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg.

The COPE program was developed in conjunction with partner MolecularHealth and enables doctors to make better treatment choices based on individual genetic data. Until now, cancer treatment has been based on purely empirical data, which means there is a fixed therapy for colon tumors or breast cancer at a certain stage. This new approach is different.

Since each instance of cancer is unique and the treatment that may save one patient might not work for another, it is imperative to be as precise and data-driven as possible. By processing genetic sequencing data powered by SAP HANA, MolecularHealth rapidly analyzes a tumor’s precise characteristics. The analysis includes information about drugs and side effects. Doctors can then use this intelligence to develop a personalized treatment plan for a particular patient. Not only are physicians able to make better-informed, safer treatment decisions. They can treat patients more efficiently and effectively. As an added bonus, the patient should experience significantly reduced medication-provoked side effects.

Franz received his results from the COPE program at the beginning of spring. To participate, his doctor had to send in Franz’s blood and tissue samples. Even though the results have not required any changes in his treatment so far, Franz says he feels well prepared should the cancer return.

But, since we ultimately want to prevent disease rather than just treat it, let’s talk about preventative healthcare. Staying healthy is critical to an athlete’s performance and Notre Dame’s Director of Sports Science, Matt Howley, was tasked with keeping his athletes at the top of their game when he started working with the men’s soccer team three years ago.

As a result, he introduced the team to a new athlete monitoring technology by Catapult. The small GPS device is worn by the players in all games and practices and uses satellite technology to measure how far or fast a player runs, how many times they sprint in a game, and various body movements. The data Howley has been able to collect has transformed the team and revitalized their fitness program, helping his players stay on the field and away from injury.

The wearables market is growing quickly. By 2021, it’s predicted to hit $14.9 Billion – quadrupling from where it is today. Can you imagine the amount of data that will be generated as a result?

Sports is a digital business. Hyper-connectivity, super-computing, cloud computing, smart devices and cyber security are five mega trends driving digital transformation in sports. The teams that digitize will be the ones that gain a competitive advantage. At SAP, we’ve created what we call the Digital Athlete Framework based on SAP HANA. With the power of SAP HANA, teams can now leverage big data from sensors, video and social and bring all data signals together across massive historical data sets, enabling the perfect prediction and recommendation for player fitness and performance. It’s a powerful weapon for the $100 Billion global sports industry.

So what links the diabetic, the cancer patient and the athlete? Data – mountains of it.  Consider this: during one hour of soccer training, 77.7 million data points are captured and processed.

While keeping athletes healthy is important, it pales in comparison to keeping people alive and healthy – which means there are no higher stakes than in healthcare.

In fact, we will never stop generating data. Every heartbeat, every commute, every purchase, every interaction adds to the growing sea of information. As a diabetic working in high tech, I’m excited that we’ve developed the tools to reach into that immense amount of noise generated by data, isolate the information we can use, and then share the resulting learnings with the whole world – making everyone’s lives better and more full.

Top image via Shutterstock

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