Biomedical initiatives at Microsoft Research

In this week’s installment of my Perspectives series I spoke with Kristin Tolle about a couple of important biomedical initiatives ongoing at MSR. One is a program with the daunting title Computational Challenges of Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS). These studies entail scanning individual human genomes to look for genes implicated in diseases, or to check for reactions to drugs. The computational challenges that MSR wants to clarify, and help address, range from pattern recognition to data visualization to automatic analysis of clinical records. What’s the payoff? Kristin boils it down:

In simplest terms, genome-wide association studies will deliver on being able to provide personalized medicine for all of us.

Another program carries a much more accessible title: Cell Phone as a Platform for Healthcare. It aims to reach rural and underserved communities with solutions that leverage components that are cheap and ubiquitous — cellphones and TVs — using the Fone+, an enabling technology that was developed by Microsoft Research Asia:

It’s a phone that sits in a cradle, with RGB out to a television set, and USB input ports for mouse, keyboard, etc. So basically it enables your phone to work like a PC.

In one application, this combo powers a low-cost ultrasound scanner. In another, it might be a platform for a field microscope that detects malaria parasites.

Like other initiatives I’ve explored in the Perspectives series, this one belongs to MSR’s External Research division. There’s a lot of good work happening there, and I’m enjoying the process of finding and telling the stories.

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