The University of Texas at San Antonio, USA
Farhan Ahmad is a joint B.S./M.D. candidate at The University of Texas at San Antonio with interests in public health, neurosurgery, and neuroethics. He is the co-founder of VideoMed, a project dedicated to providing free mental healthcare to the homeless, which has been featured on Xconomy, Fox, and NPR affiliates. Farhan has also presented his work on Alzheimer’s disease at the United Nations General Assembly and collaborated with non-governmental organizations to develop student-led global health projects in Peru. He has been a visiting scholar at The Hastings Center and summer fellow at Yale University.
Although Big Data has the potential to accelerate scientific research output, ethical frameworks for its use and implementation in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) research is forthcoming and much-needed. For years, research on AD has been focused on a variety of biochemical interactions that may contribute to the clinical phenotype, from amyloid B plaques and Tau neurofibrillary tangles to the APOE4 gene. Despite years of research on the pathogenesis of AD, 99.6% of clinical trials from over the past decade have failed to deliver a reliable cure.  Although the reason for this failure cannot be directly attributed, the authors propose that the misuse of Big Data may in fact worsen this problem, as statistical errors and epistemological fallacies of approach could be exacerbated with larger volumes of more attractive data. Therefore, there is a need for an ethical framework that contextualizes the realistic use of Big Data in AD research, based on current attitudes in the political milieu and limits in computing power. The authors analyze the impacts of Big Data on AD research thus far, as well as describe the policy landscape to postulate a modular framework that takes into account neuroethical concerns of patient privacy and research economics, stemming from the advent and use of Big Data. Since our current understanding of AD has not generated fully successful therapeutics, there are conceptual gaps that must still be bridged, and ethical applications of Big Data could be at the mainstay of that inquiry.