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What Healthcare Can Learn From a Proud Data Parasite

By January 23, 2018No Comments

Some might call him a data parasite, but Paul Pavlidis, PhD, doesn’t mind. “It’s a slur that we now embrace,” he tells Healthcare Analytics News™. “It’s a good thing.”

He borrowed the title from a 2016 New England Journal of Medicine op-ed in which its editor-in-chief described the potential for “research parasites” to take advantage of an open data-sharing system, though forms of the label had been around before that article. So, what is a data parasite? “We don’t generate data; we just take it from other people,” says Pavlidis, a psychiatry professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

And that is a good thing: It’s researchers like him who scrutinize the work of others, ensuring information reliability and integrity, and examine data sets to identify other uses that the original investigators might have overlooked.

Data parasites may also compile disparate data and build new databases, like Pavlidis and his colleagues did when they created NeuroExpresso, a searchable, open-access, online repository of gene expression profiles for 36 types of brain cells, based on mouse data. Healthcare Analytics News™ caught up with Pavlidis late last year after he published a corresponding paper, “Cross-Laboratory Analysis of Brain Cell Type Transcriptomes with Applications to Interpretation of Bulk Tissue Data,” in the journal eNeuro.