Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Software “agents” could help unmask reality of disease clusters

07.09.2005


Concerns over the privacy of patients could be hampering efforts to spot disease clusters and monitor the health effects of environmental pollution, according to researchers in the latest edition of the Journal of Biomedical Informatics.



Data made available to research groups investigating everything from cancer clusters to the risk of living near to hazardous waste sites is often restricted, altered or aggregated in order to protect the identity of individual patients.

But researchers say that these measures often make it impossible for them to carry out accurate geographical analyses of public health concerns, and may even result in misleading information being used in healthcare decisions.


They suggest that new technology which uses software “agents” to explore data could provide healthcare professionals with more accurate and meaningful information without risking patients’ identities being revealed.

Agents are advanced software programmes that can be set a specific task but then given the autonomy to set goals and carry out the operations necessary to achieve them.

By constructing virtual institutions in which agents can act, collaborating organisations can make raw data available for research without compromising the security of the information.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that certain measures to protect individual privacy can destroy the information needed for geographical analyses, making it impossible to address many important public health concerns,” said Dr Maged Boulos, from the School for Health at the University of Bath.

“Some of the solutions used to preserve confidentiality, such as centralising information to a single point in a town or aggregating data to cover the whole of an area, either lack the flexibility healthcare researchers need to get the information they need, or else actually obscure the results.

“This degrades the ability of public health researchers to identify, for example, the risk of exposure to lead associated with urban highways or clusters of cancer cases.

“Such widespread concerns can only be addressed using micro data and access to this often involves lengthy and cumbersome procedures through review boards and committees for approval, and sometimes it is just not possible.”

Dr Boulos, together with colleagues from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath and the University of Iowa, suggests that new agent software may be able to overcome some of these problems.

Software agents are programmes that can respond to changes in their environment, generate and attempt to achieve goals, and have the capacity to interact with other agents and even co-operate.

This means that agents could be sent to the original data repository in order to carry out the analysis there, and then send back an aggregate report that does not reveal individual identities. “Software agents could provide flexible but controlled access to unmodified confidential data, and return only results that do not expose any person-identifiable details,” said Dr Boulos.

“The use of software agents is not a simple as it sounds, and also carries with it its own security risks, which must be properly addressed.

“Mechanisms need to be introduced that, for example, digitally sign and authenticate genuine agents and their transactions, and prevent ‘Trojan horse’-like attacks by fake or rogue agents.

“These mechanisms could include the creation of virtual institutions to insulate host organisations from agents and minimise leakage by limiting access to only the necessary data.”

Andrew McLaughlin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.bath.ac.uk

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Stable magnetic bit of three atoms
21.09.2017 | Sonderforschungsbereich 668

nachricht Drones can almost see in the dark
20.09.2017 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Comet or asteroid? Hubble discovers that a unique object is a binary

21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cnidarians remotely control bacteria

21.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Monitoring the heart's mitochondria to predict cardiac arrest?

21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>