A series of exciting crowdsourcing challenges are launching soon that will look to change medicine as we know it. 

Crowdsourcing Advances in Precision Medicine

Harvard Business School in conjunction with the Broad Institute and Crowd Innovation Lab are hosting a series of challenges on development of algorithms for faster DNA sequence alignment and to improve analysis of gene expression data.

In broad strokes, it's the practice of tailoring medical treatment - decisions, drugs, therapies and all - to an individual or sub-group. The field shows incredible promise. President Obama even called for developing a national precision medicine initiative in his 2015 State of the Union address. 

But Harvard Business School (HBS) and industry are already on the case. In collaboration with the Broad Institute and with funding from the Kraft Foundation, Harvard is going to spend the next several years chipping away at the precision medicine big data problem.

What is precision medicine?

Researchers under the premise of precision medicine can use genomic information to gain better understanding of diseases. The goal is to study biological mechanisms in order to provide efficient diagnosis and patient treatments.

The purpose of this program is to break data bottlenecks through crowdsourced, prize-based challenges in order to pursue the research goals of the HBS and the Crowd Innovation Laboratory (CIL) for the advancement of precision medicine. HBS will partner with the Broad Institute to revolutionize the development of personalized treatments in health care. This was made possible with a grant from the Kraft Family Foundation under the leadership of foundation president Robert K. Kraft. The project will build an ecosystem through medical, academic, and investor partners in Boston. The goals include the developing of data science algorithms, data mining correlations in big data, establishing an infrastructure functionality to support research data collaboration and conceptualizing methods for data model interpretation.

Photo: Len Rubenstein

Want the easiest way to keep up with this exciting series of Topcoder challenges?

DNA Sequencing 1 (DNAS1)

In the first contest of the DNA series, we looked for an algorithm that aligns multiple DNA sequences to a reference DNA for a simpler case, when there are only minor differences between the reference DNA and the DNA the sequences are originated from. The task is to align the sequences fast, align them right, and test the alignment position for possible redundancies.

Total Prize Purse $20,000

Challenge #1 - This Challenge is Complete

Challenge #2 - This challenge is complete


In the second contest of the CMAP series, we seek to discover relationships between drugs, diseases, and genes and to generate new scientific hypotheses that point the way to therapeutic solutions. An example use case is as follows: A researcher discovers a set of genes that are collectively dysregulated in a certain disease. She then queries CMap with this gene set and discovers a drug that inversely matches her query and therefore hypothesizes that the drug may be of therapeutic relevance for the disease.

Challenge #4

Connectivity Map 1 (CMAP1)

CMAP is a collection of genome-wide transcriptional expression data from cultured human cells treated with bioactive, small molecules and simple pattern-matching algorithms. When these elements are brought together, the results enable the discovery of functional connections between drugs, genes and diseases through the transitory feature of common gene-expression changes.

For this contest, the goal is to maximize the accuracy of the inferred gene expression values, while minimizing the number of the measured gene expressions. Results of this contest will further expand research horizons for computational biologists and scientists who seek to find drugs that cure diseases.

Total Prize Purse $20,000

2 Series of Crowdsourcing Challenges on Topcoder

Challenge #3 - This challenge is complete

Myeloma Progression Predictor

Help predict cancer by creating advanced algorithms using real genetic data. MMRF, Harvard and Topcoder need your algorithmic solutions to this hugely important challenge.

Total Prize Purse $20,000

Challenge #6

DNA Sequencing 3 (DNAS3)

For the third contest of the DNA series we prepared the toughest challenge. You will be provided with high-coverage sequencing of a piece of genome that is significantly different from the reference DNA. You goal will be to reconstruct the original genome from it’s shredded pieces.

Total Prize Purse $20,000

Challenge launch - TBD

DNA Sequencing 2 (DNAS2)

In the second contest of the DNA series, we seek to further develop the alignment algorithm. Given a set of aligned DNA segments and associated alignment confidence levels, your task is to accurately and efficiently characterize the differences between the segments and reference genome (i.e., variant calling).

Total Prize Purse $20,000

Challenge launch - Late February

Challenge #5

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The Broad Institute

A Different Kind of Research Institution

The Broad Institute is a collaborative community pioneering a new model of biomedical science that originated from large-scale scientific collaborations in genomics and chemical biology that grew out of major initiatives at Harvard and MIT.

The Kraft Foundation

Kraft Endowment for Advancing Precision Medicine

The Kraft family, through its family foundation, is committed to giving back. Numerous institutions and organizations from small grass roots causes to major universities have benefited from over $100 million of philanthropy. The family's efforts on a broad sense have focused on education, healthcare, women's issues and youth sports.

"From a very simple statistical model, what we can show is that as you have more people participating in a process, the likelihood of you getting an extreme value solution just goes up... There's no magic behind that at all, it's simple statistics, and simple math showing why crowdsourcing works over and over and over again."

Karim Lakhani - Associate Professor Harvard Business School and Principal Investigator Crowd Innovation Lab | NASA Tournament Lab

Achieving Extreme Value Outcomes

Crowdsourcing challenges, powered by the talented Topcoder community, have routinely delivered extreme value solutions in data science. 

Why use crowdsourcing?