Data Visualization: Biology & Medicine

Welcome back to our weekly installment of visualizations in data science!  This week we have a lineup exploring biological systems,  and ultimately how great visualizations are furthering medical practice.  These visualisations are designed with a select audience in mind and not necessarily the general public, but they are a thrilling way to discover what previous formats had effectively rendered unavailable.

Tablets in Science


KEGG is an online and integrated molecular database designed to support our interests in metabolism by linking sequenced genomes to higher level systematic functions.  Having the data is nice, but unless molecular biology is your profession the KEGG database was only proof that others were interested in the subject.  With iPathCaseKEGG, an iOS App designed to visually explore the KEGG database, anyone with a passing curiosity can learn quickly, and there are a plethora of similar toys when you're ready for a new subject.

Exploring Gene Ontology

Figure S3There was a time in history when a treatise could be written on a given subject, a single person could relate their work to all other corresponding works in the world in a single book.  Today, what we relate to depends on what we focus on and how we visualize the data, leading to new emphasis and new renderings.  In this data mining approach to biological networks, the author explores various hypotheses by emphasizing different data using similar data visualizations, and each time discovers a unique aggregate in the data.  What we know depends on how we explore.

Visualizing Brain Surgery

DESI - Brain Surgery Imagery

There has always been a give and take between gathering passive or minimally invasive diagnostic information about a patient and using the operation itself to make final decisions.  As is the case with my own ankle surgery, the precision of X-Rays and MRI's is not infinite and only offers some confidence that surgery will be advantageous.  At least with an ankle, once surgery begins, it is clear what is healthy bone, versus post traumatic growth, versus scar tissue; thus, the decision to operate is relatively easy.  However, in brain surgery, cancerous cells are not as obvious, and variation in judgement can mean serious loss of motor, sensory, or cognitive ability.  This article explores the work of Purdue professor R. Graham Cooks to visualize the borders of cancerous brain tumors using charged solvents during surgery.

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