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MIT Better World

By Genevieve Rajewski

The app was used by about 600 of the 2,000 participants in the 2015 getfit@mit challenge, an annual on-campus program sponsored by MIT Medical, to log details of their fitness activities—including type, duration, and location—and analyze their progress via charts and graphs. On its surface, the product resembled any number of existing commercial apps for tracking exercise and other personal metrics. But its backend holds great potential for how health and wellness data may be handled in the future.

The getfit@mit app was built on a new platform called DataHub, which was developed at CSAIL by PhD candidate Anant Bhardwaj and his advisors, professors David Karger and Sam Madden ’99, MNG ’99. This hosted database system and interface allows users to freely own, edit, share, and delete their data. In the words of its creators: “Think of it as a mashup of [version control software] GitHub and [relational database] PostgreSQL, accessible through your web browser.” The MIT Big Data Living Lab at CSAIL conducted the getfit@mit project as one of its on-campus pilot programs exploring the platform’s technical and social implications for data collection.

This past June, DataHub was released as open source under the MIT License to enable continued innovation by others. Stephen Buckley, director of the Living Lab, sees significant opportunities for those who manage electronic medical records. “DataHub could help health care providers to allow their patients to more easily and privately share their information across different networks,” he says. For example, a patient referred to an orthopedist by his primary care physician could allow that specialist to view related x-rays and other diagnostic information, without granting access to the entire health record. This ability would enhance patient privacy, while reducing risk for physicians when it comes to maintaining regulatory compliance in protecting patient information.

Possibilities like this lie at the heart of the Living Lab, says Buckley: “We want to help accelerate the pipeline of innovation coming out of MIT so that people can use it to solve problems out in the real world.”