The importance of organizing and assuring access to the government’s healthcare data via the SUS was highlighted in a presentation by Ester Sabino, a professor at the University of São Paulo, to a webinar hosted by the São Paulo State Academy of Sciences. Data integration and access would benefit researchers and the Health Ministry, and help to direct investment in the sector (image: screenshot of the event)
Published on 11/21/2022
By André Julião | Agência FAPESP – In Brazil, the Health Ministry currently has more than 800 systems to control various aspects of the activities for which it is responsible. The use of electronic patient records is increasing, and massive amounts of data on the progression of diseases in many patients are filed away in these systems. Organizing the data and assuring access to it could make Brazil a leader in artificial intelligence applied to medicine. Moreover, it would be highly cost-effective for the national health service, known as the SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde).
This was the gist of a talk delivered by Ester Sabino, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Medical School (FM-USP), on November 9, 2022, as part of a series organized by the São Paulo State Academy of Sciences (ACIESP) and FAPESP.
Sabino’s talk was the keynote presentation in a webinar on human health and the global challenges of chronic infectious diseases, held to launch the sixth chapter of a book on science and national development produced by ACIESP to commemorate FAPESP’s sixtieth anniversary (FAPESP 60 anos: a ciência no desenvolvimento nacional).
According to Sabino, a co-author of the chapter, in 2018 the Health Ministry’s Department of Science and Technology published an agenda of research priorities, but cutting-edge research in the health sector requires integration with the Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI). Data integration with access for the academic community would be an important step.
“The SUS could provide significant support. It’s currently limited by technological dependency. Everything has to be imported, or the requisite technology hasn’t even been developed. In the US, for example, there’s no such thing as a primary care system and so no one is thinking about making it more functional. Support for this kind of research in Brazil is fundamental. On the other hand, Brazilian scientists know very little about how the national healthcare system works,” Sabino said.
Patient recruitment accounts for a substantial proportion of the cost of population studies, yet the SUS collects this kind of data every day, she noted, citing as an example Minas Gerais state’s Telehealth Center, established to store electrocardiogram assessments. A group of researchers processed the data and arrived at several interesting conclusions, such as the possibility of using artificial intelligence to predict a patient’s age based on this data. In a paper published in Nature Communications, the group showed that when the age predicted by the computer based on ECG results was eight years more than the person’s actual chronological age, this age gap pointed to a higher mortality rate for various diseases.
“They did this just with ECG data. Imagine what you could do with data from all other routine test and exam results, such as X-rays, ultrasound, blood work and so on, that are in the system and can be associated in an organized manner,” said Sabino, principal investigator for the Brazil-UK Center for Arbovirus Discovery, Diagnosis, Genomics and Epidemiology (CADDE), which is supported by FAPESP.
Vaccines and genomics
The event also featured a presentation by Adriano Andricopulo, who edited the chapter. He is a professor at the São Carlos Institute of Physics (IFSC-USP) and ACIESP’s Executive Director.
The benefits of genome editing for human health were the focus for a talk by Mayana Zatz, a professor at the Institute of Biosciences (IB-USP) and principal investigator for the Human Genome and Stem Cell Research Center (HUG-CELL), one of FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs).
Juliana Quero Reimão, a professor at the Jundiaí Medical School in São Paulo state, spoke about the urgent need for new vaccines and medications for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Vanderlan Bolzani, a professor at São Paulo State University's Institute of Chemistry (IQ-UNESP) and President of ACIESP, also attended the webinar.
A recording of the event with all presentations can be watched at: youtu.be/kuuOc5HPRq0.
The first five chapters of FAPESP 60 anos: a ciência no desenvolvimento nacional are at: 60anos.fapesp.br/aciesp-eventos.