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New resource fights 'information overload' in medical research

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Marie Hagman was diagnosed with stomach ulcers. Two specialists told her she'd be on medication for the rest of her life, but she didn't accept it. She spent weeks sifting through research papers until she came across a bacteria that could be causing her problems. After a two week dose of antibiotics, she was cured. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE--From the latest cancer treatment to that aching joint, people looking for the newest medical information have a new tool. Forty million research papers are now free and easy to search, thanks to a project with Paul Allen's backing. It's designed for scientists and doctors, but is also available to people doing their own medical detective work.

Marie Hagman is senior project manager at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2. She knows first hand why this resource matters.

"I would just type 'stomach ulcer,'" Hagman said at a computer screen. "That's where I started."

In 2002, Hagman was diagnosed with stomach ulcers. Two specialists told her she'd be on medication for the rest of her life, but she didn't accept it. She spent weeks sifting through research papers until she came across a bacteria that could be causing her problems. After a two week dose of antibiotics, she was cured.


"It really taught me the value of having access to this type of information," she said. "Today, if the same thing were to happen, I'd be able to find it within minutes."

That search is boiled down to minutes, thanks to the 40 million research papers now included on a search engine called Semantic Scholar.

"If you can imagine any human trying to read all of those papers, it's a daunting task. But it's the perfect task for machines," Hagman said.

The site is a key project at AI2. Developers pulled research from all biomedical sciences, put them in one place, and made them easier to navigate.

Oren Etzioni, CEO of AI2 explained, "Search engines are great at being comprehensive. They'll give you a ton of stuff. You do a query, you get millions of results. But which is the right one to look at? People get overwhelmed. What we do with the AI capabilities is offer you selectivity. Our motto is cut through the clutter so you can get the right results."


The database is free.

"Scientific search shouldn't be the type of thing people make money on. It should be the kind of thing that makes the world a better place," Etzioni said.

"It's really a fantastic feeling to get this out today and help scientists do the important work they do to improve lives and save lives," Hagman said.

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