5 Questions for Dr. William Hahn, Harvard Medical School

Dr. William Hahn is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We recently sat down with him to discuss bio data, genomic sequencing, and where he sees advances in technology impacting clinical practice.

Intel: How has bio data research changed in the last five years? How do you envision it progressing in the next five years?

Hahn: The medical industry has been slow to think about data. When you consider the rest of the world, you see that people take their access to data for granted. In the last five years, there’s been a realization that medicine is going to change fundamentally in both the amount of data we’re going to create for each patient and how we’re going to handle that data and protect it. In five years, I can imagine that we’re going to have a tremendous amount of data and information on each patient. We need to think deeply about how to protect this data in a way that allows access to the patient’s healthcare team, but prevents any security breaches.

Intel: How are you seeing technology lead progress in your practice and your research?

Hahn: Healthcare technology is changing at an incredibly rapid rate. Just as in the home, everything from the toaster to the car has a computer chip. So does everything today in the hospital. As healthcare professionals, our ability to monitor, access, and track information has dramatically changed. In my clinic, the speed of information is very important. Right now, it’s significantly more expensive to access information in a quicker fashion. For example, we have created a panel for sequencing leukemia samples that can be done in three days rather than three weeks, but at a much higher rate.

Intel: Is there any disadvantage to data access?

Hahn: Patients increasingly have general information about diseases as well as specific information about their own health at their fingertips, which is very good. While transparency is an important component, it’s also created a situation where people are more confused than ever because the information is complex and occasionally wrong. There are scenarios where we simply don’t have an answer and it’s more difficult for patients to realize that their physician is going to make decisions based on the best available information in the absence of good data.

Intel: What should clinicians be discussing with their patients?

Hahn: First, we need everyone to have their genomes sequenced. Genome sequencing is important because it’s the blueprint that makes you who you are, makes you the same as some in your family, and different from your neighbors and coworkers. Without being able to specify your genome sequence, we’ll never be able to understand all of these questions about what makes you who you are and also what makes you different than other people. It will certainly give insight to questions that relate to your health and any relevant diseases. My hope is that what’s right for the patient will win the day.

Intel: Intel launched an initiative in 2015 called All in One Day, where the goal is to diagnose a cancer, sequence the genome, and provide a care plan to a patient in 24 hours. What are your thoughts on this? 

Hahn: The diagnosis of cancer for a patient and their family is often one that elicits anxiety, fear, and anger. One of the things we can do as physicians is to reassure patients and their families that we are going to take care of the problem. The All in One Day initiative would provide information about the molecular basis of a patient’s cancer within a very short period of time and help physicians to have a clear and specific path for treatment. The ability to give reassurance that this is not an unknown, there is a path forward, and that your physician and care team are informed is going to be tremendously helpful for patients.