Search data could spot drug side effects

Researchers at Stanford University and Microsoft recently found that people were searching for serious side effects of combining two drugs even before doctors identified the link themselves.

It doesn’t sound very reassuring, but researchers believe they could use search logs from millions of web users to pinpoint dangerous interactions between prescription drugs. Such interactions are notoriously difficult to predict and monitor in controlled conditions, reports New Scientist

The researchers mined the US Food and Drug Administration’s database of adverse drug events to find commonly used drugs which could pose a threat when combined with other drugs. The found that some antidepressants, such as paroxetine and pravastatin, could interact together to put patients at risk of developing diabetes.

Then they kindly asked Microsoft for help and Redmond obliged, providing an add-on to its Internet Explorer browser, allowing millions of consenting users to share their search histories anonymously.

The researchers then cross referenced searches for paroxetine and pravastatin with searches for typical symptoms of high blood sugar levels. It worked and they found a spike in searches mentioning the symptoms and drug names.

However, it should be noted that researchers used data collected from Internet Explorer users, and they tend to represent the mouth breathing sections of the human gene pool.