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India needs Big Data boost for cardiac disease

The Cardiological Society of India (CSI), the apex body of cardiologists has announced the need to gather more data on every cardiac condition that is present in the country. 

Heart data concept. Copyright: tribalium123 / 123RF Stock Photo, cardiovascular, cardiac
Image credit: tribalium123 / 123RF

The intention is to use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technology to assess all known heart conditions in the country. The data will then be compiled to assess lifestyle and genetic factors that may lead to increased risk of developing these conditions. 

“We have to have big data. CSI has started efforts in this direction. This will not happen in a year or two, as it is a continuous process. We have to accrue big data and then go step by step. In the years to come, all these will help us formulate (a method), and identify people who can potentially develop heart disease in the future. This will not happen tomorrow or the day after, it will take time,” said CSI President P.P. Mohanan.

A deeper insight into the risk factors that contribute to heart disease could be invaluable to the Indian health system. Given the fact that cardiac conditions are one of the most common causes of death within the country it is of vital importance that any unique risk factors among the population be uncovered.

As reported by Health Issues India back in 2019, there has been a startling rise in heart disease cases over the last few decades. Over the last 25 years, India has seen a fifty percent rise in heart disease cases according to doctors at the Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre. In 2016, heart disease accounted for 28.1 percent of all deaths in the country.

“South Asians have a predilection to develop heart attacks ten years earlier. Ten-fifteen years ago, the percentage of people under forty years or under 45 years developing heart attacks was few, maybe five-seven percent, but now some of the data which have come is alarming. Recent data from Bengaluru says that about 25 per cent of the patients are less than forty years of age,” Mohanan said.

More information is required that is specific to the Indian population. Much of global research focused on risk factors, and the effects of medication, are based predominantly on data from people with European ancestry. While this data is still valuable in informing healthcare policy within India, the lack of data that accounts for unique societal, and genetic information in the Indian population may make treatments or policies suboptimal.

Much like information on cardiac disease, genetic database information from India is also critically lacking. India represents almost twenty percent of the world’s population — and is on track to become the world’s most populous nation in the coming decades. Despite this, only 0.2 percent of fully mapped genomes in global databases are of Indian origin.

Success has been had in the past regarding genetic studies of the Indian population. One Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS) found that there are six unique alleles present among the Indian population that cause a genetic predisposition to diabetes. This underlines at least part of the cause of high diabetes rates among Indians — other causes being lifestyle factors such as diets rich in sugar and sedentary lifestyles with a limited degree of exercise.

Such is the case for cardiac disease that there may be a number of genetic factors that are playing a role in the Indian population. Increasing the prevalence of Indian genes within global genetic databases could uncover if this is indeed true. Recording data and use of AI to track heart disease cases in the country could also uncover further details. 

Some risk factors will include lifestyle factors. “Nobody walks. Sitting is the new smoking. Air pollution is coming in a bigger way, causing substantial damage to your arteries, causing you hypertension, heart disease etc. New factors are on the anvil. We have to be absolutely guarded on account of all these factors,” Mohanan added. Using AI to track heart disease cases, as well as various different factors such as diet and exercise could serve to underline the links between the two.

Gathering data will be a major boon for India. The use of AI could provide a deeper analysis of trends and current issues that could serve as a major benefit to informing healthcare policy and better addressing the issue of cardiac disease.

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