Skipping the 20th Century  pg. 3

“So part of the aspect of this project is to provide outreach and training in the principles of what’s called Good Clinical Practice, which are international standards for conducting research in a way that respects the ethical principles of informed consent and which makes the data verifiable and timely, so that it’s possible to ensure scientific integrity.

“The form it will take may range from helping people to create paper forms—on three-by-five cards in some countries—and others to create secure Web portals for communication of their data. And we’re prepared to do both those things and everything in between.”

The program allows for visits to each of the sites to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the data, and to provide educational outreach by Vanderbilt faculty. In return, Masys says, his co-investigators may do some teaching of their own. “This may also provide a very nice educational vehicle for Vanderbilt students to learn about how science is done in other countries,” he says.

Epidemic surveillance, even one with a worldwide reach, is not new. “There have been many reporting sources,” Masys says, “but they tended to report in their own format and at their own pace and using heterogeneous dissimilar computer systems…

“The difference over the last 10 years has been the emergence of the Internet and the emergence of computing technologies that are cost-effective even in developing countries, and our ability to make measurements in a systematic way across the many countries and populations of the world.

“So we can do this with greater uniformity and much faster than we could before… with eyes and ears on the ground in essentially every region of the globe.”

Healthy humility

Masys is well aware of the logistical and occasional political nightmares that can play havoc with the conduct of science, but he’s convinced that technology—combined with the can-do spirit displayed by his co-investigators—will overcome any challenge.

“You have science that runs on batteries in many developing nations of the world,” he explains. “Combine that with innovations such as Wi-max, a wide-area data networking, where one can put a transmitter on a single cell-phone tower and be able to provide high-speed Internet services to a region that’s 30 miles in diameter from one device.

“That is the kind of leap forward that means we don’t need wires to connect with one another either by voice or data across increasingly large regions. The net effect of that is being able to recruit new people into research activities who were not previously involved because of the cost and expense of installing an infrastructure for doing that.”

Even if funding for the network doesn’t continue beyond five years, the relationships forged by this project will probably be “enduring legacies,” Masys predicts.

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