Out of Many, One

This ancient saying can be a useful lens for examining the role of big data in modern healthcare.

by Joy Howard

Nurses’ Health Study leaders Meir Stampfer, MD, DrPH, and Francine Grodstein, ScD, and research assistant Caitlin Barrows stand amid hundreds of thousands of samples in the BWH/Harvard Cohorts Biorepository. Read Connecting the Dots to learn more. (Photo by Stu Rosner)

E pluribus unum is often translated “Out of many, one.” Perhaps most familiar as an unofficial motto of the United States, some historians trace the saying back to Pythagorean principles of beauty and friendship from the 6th century BCE.

In this issue of Brigham Health magazine, you’ll find this ancient saying can be a useful lens for examining the role of big data in modern healthcare. Just as E pluribus unum celebrates the U.S. founders’ ideal of unity among many, we think it could also describe how big data can bring together multitudes of medical information to create communities of shared knowledge and understanding.

Our stories about population studies, pharmacoepidemiology, and artificial intelligence show how clinicians and researchers can discover new patterns among data sets from hundreds of millions of people. Insights gained from these patterns can identify which specific medications are most suitable for you, signal how to minimize your particular risks for chronic disease, and inform conversations you have with your doctors.

E pluribus unum describes how we can feel profoundly connected to something bigger than ourselves when we work together to create communities. Likewise, our visits to doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies contribute to the richness and increased connectivity of medical data that can help make each of us healthier.

What do you think about studies that give researchers access to your anonymous medical information? Would you consider participating in one? If you have been part of such a study, what was your experience? Let us know at brighamhealthmag@partners.org.

Joy Howard
Managing Editor