Two doctoral students awarded data-driven fellowships

June 15, 2017

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Two UC Berkeley School of Public Health students will spend the next year investigating ways to harness personal data collected by mobile devices to advance public health thanks to grant funding from Taiwan-based technology company Bitmark Inc.

The fellows are Madelena Ng, a doctoral student in Public Health, and Victor Villalobos, a doctoral candidate in Public Health.

The fellowships, which begin in August, are part of a partnership between Bitmark and the School.

"The School of Public Health at UC Berkeley is excited to partner with Bitmark Inc. on this research fellowship,” said Lauren Goldstein, director of research development at the School.

Ng’s research will evaluate whether digital health technologies alleviate existing challenges in clinical research. Ng’s research hypothesizes physical activity and quality of sleep positively correlate with regular menstrual cycles.

“The Bitmark Fellowship provides me with the unique opportunity to align cutting-edge technologies for accelerating public health discoveries,” Ng said. “The study serves as a proof-of-concept for the value of data ownership and digital health data on elucidating women’s health patterns and improving research participation. I look forward to collaborating with Bitmark on this endeavor.”

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Villalobos will research ways to improve diabetes care protocols by studying remission cases. The goal of this research is to generate insights on the dietary, physical activity, and psychological strategies that increase the probability to achieve and maintain diabetes remission.

“This is a project that is now possible to execute thanks to smartphone devices and the Bitmark infrastructure,” he said.

The studies will work by pairing “data donors”—UC Berkeley students who agree to send data stored on either iOS HealthKit Data or from health tech wearables like Fitbit to Bitmark—with an automated program, or “bot,” designed to extract and convert personal data, record consent and also respond to basic commands.

Data donors will be informed about where their data is being used and for what purposes, according to Bitmark.

“It is a great opportunity for our young researchers to gain valuable hands-on experience at the intersection of public health and technology," Goldstein said.

By Brian Maxey

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