Skipping the 20th Century pg. 2
“This type of data can help in resource allocations in health systems planning so that each of these individual nations can anticipate patterns of disease spread or complications of HIV or the almost inevitable diffusion of new genetic variants that may have originated elsewhere in the globe ...
“And with that insight, to be able to create better drugs and intervention strategies that are not based on drugs. They may be public health strategies, sanitation or other forms of intervention that are equally or more effective.”
IEDEA is not unlike the current worldwide effort to track the spread of avian flu. “That kind of early monitoring of the events that are occurring in distant countries, but which can quickly become our own health problems on a national level, is a key feature of these scientific networks that are global in scale,” Masys says.
“The fundamental statement here is that knowledge is power,” he asserts. “And to the extent that we have new and better means of acquiring and disseminating knowledge, we actually change the balance of power in health, the balance of power relative to our adversaries, the scourges of humanity.”
Jumping into hyperspace
Masys doesn’t talk like a computer nerd. That’s because he’s not.
Trained as an oncologist, he first realized the power of computing in the late 1970s when he wrote a software program to relieve the drudgery of tracking patients through clinical trials.
That led to an offer from the National Cancer Institute to help build a database called PDQ—Physician Data Query—“really the first electronic textbook of oncology that could be kept up-to-date over night,” he says. At that point, Masys says, “I jumped to hyperspace, and have pretty much been there ever since.”
After a couple of years at the NCI, he transferred to the National Library of Medicine, where—as an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service—he directed the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications.
Masys also was the program architect and first director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which hosts the DNA data from the Human Genome Project.
He moved to UCSD in 1994. “It was in that regard that I was first asked by the HIV centers there… to help improve their informatics and data management support for HIV research,” he says. Some of their studies were “just amazingly data intensive.”
It was good training for his current challenge—achieving uniformity and consistency in a wildly diverse collection of research capabilities.
“In Haiti and in Brazil, they have very large centers with Ph.D.-level data management staff, (while) in Honduras they have one computer in a clinic, and they are paying one doctor part-time to do the data entry,” Masys explains.