Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Rumi Chunara

, 32

Visionary

Severin Hacker

Crucial information about disease outbreaks can be gleaned earlier.

Problem:
Our systems for detecting outbreaks of disease are unreliable. Typically, word of outbreaks bubbles up as patients see health professionals, who report cases to authorities. Those authorities often can’t piece the reports together in time to prevent significant numbers of other people from getting sick.

Solution: 
Rumi Chunara, a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is mining social media and other online sources for information outside of medical settings. 

In one study, Chunara found that a rise in cholera-related Twitter posts in Haiti correlated with an outbreak of the disease. “That’s important, because it takes the ministry of health in Haiti a couple of weeks to get their data aggregated,” she says. In future outbreaks, tweets could help direct medical workers earlier and ensure that supplies like water purification tablets get where they’re needed. 

Chunara knows that digital disease detection is not necessarily better. For instance, researchers have spotted inaccuracies in Google’s Flu Trends service, which analyzes Web searches and estimates the pervasiveness of the flu. But her goal is not to supplant the traditional chain of command in public health; instead she is augmenting it with new tidbits of information.

To get beyond what might be found from social media, she offered two-cent rewards to people in India who completed a survey about malaria, generating information that could guide deployment of diagnostic and treatment kits. For the United States, she helped develop Flu Near You, a site that creates flu maps based on user-submitted information about symptoms and diagnoses. She’s showing that you can get good data even from people who haven’t seen doctors.

—Courtney Humphries 

Watch this Innovator at EmTech 2014
Meet the Innovators Under 35

Credit: Illustration by Sam Kerr

Tagged: Biomedicine, EmTech2014

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me