Tech Savvy: Digital Tools Propel Lifestyle Medicine

Woman in exercise gear looking at phone and smart watch.
Article Summary
  • Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center will unveil its use of digital technology at the upcoming eMerge Americas meeting.
  • Sylvester’s My Wellness Research platform quickly synthesizes large amounts of data to evaluate the impact of nutrition and diet changes in cancer care.
  • Data supports Sylvester’s approach to lifestyle medicine by accurately assessing the behavior of patients and study participants.

Advances in technology are revolutionizing our capacity to explore the influence of diet and exercise on cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship.

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, will unveil its pioneering approach at the upcoming eMerge Americas meeting on April 18-19 in Miami Beach.

This year, Sylvester is establishing a formidable cancer lifestyle medicine resource with its proprietary research platform, My Wellness Research, under its ambitious Sylvester Cancer Data Ecosystem initiative. This comprehensive digital repository will integrate patient-generated lifestyle data with genomic, imaging, clinical records and sociodemographic factors sourced from electronic health records.

“For the first time, we’re able to see the direct, real-time impact of cancer treatment and diet and exercise interventions,” said Tracy E. Crane, Ph.D., RDN, co-lead of the Cancer Control Program and director of lifestyle medicine, prevention and digital health at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The My Wellness Research Platform allows us to monitor individual patients and populations of people, detect trends and quickly act on those trends with automated tools and human support, when needed.”

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher Dr. Tracy Crane
Dr. Tracy Crane is director of lifestyle medicine, prevention and digital health at Sylvester.

My Wellness Research collects patient data from interactive voice responses, web-based calls, video exercise and nutrition sessions and wearable devices. The system facilitates communication between patients and study participants and health coaches and reports patient health and lifestyle information to health care providers.

As elements of cancer care move from the clinic to the home, digital tools like My Wellness Research allow researchers and oncologists to monitor patients while delivering remote care.  

“Data gathered from these wearables and remote assessments can be harnessed to develop tailored, more precise treatment plans and interventions to each individual patient, generated by their own data,” said Gilberto Lopes, M.D., chief of the Division of Medical Oncology at the Miller School and associate director for global oncology at Sylvester.

Gilberto Lopes, M.D., chief of the Division of Medical Oncology at the Miller School and associate director for global oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center
Dr. Gilberto Lopes says data from wearables leads to more individualized treatment plans.

Lifestyle data is typically underrepresented in the computational oncology space but impacts patient quality-of-life and health outcomes, according to Grey Freylersythe, senior manager of the Crane Lab at Sylvester.

Technology gives researchers tools to answer important questions on a grand scale.

“In the past, we would survey study participants about their daily food intake and exercise, but because of the tediousness of this type of data collection, we were limited in our ability to study large numbers of people,” said Dr. Crane. “Now that we have access to wearables and other technologies, we’re starting to understand the questions that need answering with direct application of lifestyle medicine in cancer patients’ daily lives.”

“Humans are not just a genome,” Freylersythe said. “Lifestyle medicine lets us intelligently add the human behavior piece to the data we collect on people. That might be from a wearable device, like a Fitbit or Apple Watch, or by incorporating the Veggie Meter®, a noninvasive way to document someone’s diet pattern in terms of vegetable and fruit intake that doesn’t require that people remember or log their intake or even provide a sample of blood.”

The Crane Lab’s Grey Freylersythe says Sylvester’s data portal does the analysis a human couldn’t complete in a lifetime.

Technology also allows large-scale data interpretation. Sylvester researchers are looking for vocal patterns in recorded conversations between patients and their health coaches. In the Lifestyle Intervention for oVarian Cancer Enhanced Survival (LIVES) study, natural language processing and machine learning makes possible the analysis of 17,000 hours of health coaching calls with ovarian cancer survivors.

“There’s no way a human could do that without dedicating an entire career to this work,” Freylersythe said.

The rapid analysis lets the team create models based on language and sentiment to predict diet and exercise changes among the study participants.

Sylvester’s complex digital work requires the Sylvester Data Portal’s seamless data integration. According to Vasileios Stathias, Ph.D., assistant director of data science at Sylvester, the portal ensures “FAIR” (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) data.

“The Sylvester Data Portal was created to collect, aggregate, standardize and analyze all the different data types that the cancer center generates,” Dr. Stathias said.

Vasileios Stathias, Ph.D., assistant director of data science at Sylvester
Vasileios Stathias says precision care depends on contemporary digital technology.

Sylvester uses the portal data to create a robust picture of the patient, Dr. Stathias said.

“In my opinion, the only way to truly deliver precision care is with the use of digital technologies, not to take the place of human thinking, but to help inform it,” Dr. Crane said. “We and other research teams around the world believe this will lead to improving the overall patient experience and outcomes.” 

Tags: cancer and exercise, Dr. Gilberto Lopes, Dr. Tracy Crane, nutrition, technology