Hear Why Drashko Loves Medical Research

Hear Why Drashko Loves Medical Research


We are a department of biomedical informatics
at Columbia University. Your question was which disease I want to cure, right? Well,
my work is more general than that although at the moment I’m working with a community
that is patients with diabetes. My work is situated in online health communities; more
particularly I’m interested in the forums in online health communities. I’m working
on a phenomenon called ‘sense making’ which basically investigates how people collectively
build knowledge around problems and then also how people use the community as a group, as
a resource to find answers to their problems. I’m interested in developing tools that will
help people comprehend better the discussions, the content of the forum, enable them to share
knowledge in an easier way. They come there and they talk about their
treatment, different types of treatments, medications, breakthroughs in science, they
share personal experiences They come to those forums to find information so that they can
learn from that and apply it to how they treat their disease and how they think about their
disease. I’m trying to do that improvement. I come from Macedonia geographically but professionally
I have a computer science and engineering background. I think my interests in science
date back way back in my childhood, as long as I remember. My parents say I was very curious
kid; I was asking questions for everything. I would say that the first phenomenon that
got me intrigued was ball. I was very intrigued by ball movement. I was impressed by the way
you apply force to different parts of the ball and it goes differently. How can you
predict that? Those were the questions that I was asking myself when I was nine, ten years
old. Before I came to the US, while I was doing
my master’s thesis and while I was doing my undergrad, I used to play basketball. Five
of those years, which were eight in total, I played in the Premier League which is a
semiprofessional-professional level. I can say that that was a very hard and busy time
of my life. Being forced to plan every single minute of your day, to be able to complete
your tasks on time was a great challenge and required a lot of discipline. At the moment
I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now because the lessons learned in that period
I apply in this new PhD environment. Every finding that you have, every informatics
intervention that you build has an impact on hundreds, thousands, sometimes even millions
of people that will give people much clearer insight into the spectrum of solutions of
a problem. That way they can get educated about the disease that they have in a much
better, more efficient way. That can, for example, affect how they interact with their
physician, how they self-manage their disease. That can affect positively their health so
I think that’s the driving motive for me: helping people basically, applying my skills
to help others. I have to have strong evidence to show that
what I’m doing actually positively affects people’s health, quality of life or even show
that some process related to health outcomes are positively improved. Now once those two
things are in place I can say that my work will basically change the paradigm of how
people perceive forums as platforms and then how they look at them as a repository of information
and knowledge. So far I’m done a prototype of a discussion
visualization tool. The intention of the tool was to help people comprehend the discussion
in a better way. We tested that tool with people from the community I’m working on with
diabetes. It was shown that the accuracy of the answers was improved by 60% and we found
statistical significance for that. But these findings are telling us that there is big
room for improvement in this area. You have a notion of information that are defragmented
and I have to be able to tease out what’s useful, what’s not, like a sculpture. It’s
very interesting. Right now as you can see in the world things
are getting more and more connected, people are getting more and more connected. It’s
about work, it’s about collaboration, it’s about doing things together. I didn’t mention
this but in the forum we have more than 30,000 members so that’s a lot of people and thinking
about how they come together to create knowledge is fascinating. Everybody has to use his skills to help others.
The world needs help. People generate problems: that’s what we do. Right? Life implies generating
problems and life requires solving those problems. The feeling of being responsible for finding
those solutions and helping others is the most valuable thing you can experience in
life. Science gives you a chance to find those problems that are not so obvious and find
complete solutions that can be replicated by others, that can be used further to develop
products that will improve people’s lives on a large scale. We’re talking about fundamentally
changing the world; so if that’s not enough I don’t know what else is.

Danny Hutson

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