First-year Sanjay Koka created a new program to educate students on the benefits of Precision Medicine.
The program, “Undergraduate Precision Medicine Research Fellows,” is in conjunction with the Center for Hypertension and Precision Medicine at UTMC. This relatively new technology uses machine learning to help doctors diagnose patients.
Machine learning is a method of inputting large samples of data and finding patterns. Those patterns are used to predict future events through two main sources, structured and unstructured data, Koka said.
“Structured data would be for example for medicine…whenever you go to the hospital, you fill out a questionnaire...and you have to do that honestly. So that’s structured data, it’s data that’s fool-proof.”
When dealing with unstructured data, there is no direct input used to gather information.
“Your search preferences, what you say on social media.…you really need to refine it to see what’s true and what’s not true,” Koka said.
“Unstructured data can be data that’s out there on the web.”
Precision Medicine gathers structured and unstructured data. Then, using a program, it can pattern the results for certain key pieces of data.
For example, Koka said, “Genetic data, lifestyle data, and demographic data...it’s able to predict if a patient is going to get a certain disease.”
Koka is focusing on Hypertension. Dr. Bina Joe, the founding executive member of the Center for Hypertension and Precision Medicine, is working with him to make the program a part of the center.
Cam McCarthy, Ph.D. and fellow in the department of physiology and pharmacology, is helping Koka with opportunities and forums where he can present the program’s ideas.
McCarthy is hopeful of the program’s future.
“I’m hoping that future medical professional of UT will use Sanjay’s club as a means to gain research opportunities in one of the many labs here on campus,” he said. “Moreover, it could be used as a networking and social support tool for these students.”
Koka is planning a TED Talk that will demonstrate the software he is using and its method of incorporating different types of data to diagnose patients.
To Koka, the software isn’t limited only to the medical field.
“For example, a lawyer…instead of reading hundreds of pages a day, you can basically look for keywords and you’re able to pinpoint certain keywords that will help you gain valuable information.”
Koka entered the field for personal reasons. His grandfather suffered a stroke which resulted in the loss of major functions.
According to Koka, there was a drug that could have reduced the loss of functions, but the doctors were not aware of it at the time.
“The doctors didn’t know what to do...because [the drug] isn’t FDA approved,” Koka said. If precision medicine [was used], the doctors would know, because that drug is now FDA approved. So that’s why I’m so interested on this topic because I know it can help make sure events like that never happen to other people.”
The new program currently has 10 members from various majors.
While the program is looking for new members, the center wants to keep it to a small group of 10 to 15 dedicated students.