“You have spots. And they’re ALL OVER you.”, my then 3-year-old cousin told me one day at the beach as she watched me slather on sunscreen. My teenage self didn’t appreciate the observation, but she was right. I was (and still am) covered in freckles.
As a redhead, I’m intimately familiar with the sun’s power over skin. From the ever-increasing freckle count to painful sunburns, I’ve experienced everything but a tan. But the real danger lies in the long-term effects.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and new cases of its deadliest form, Melanoma, have increased three-fold since the 1970s. In a recent study on skin cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that if diagnosis rates continue at the current pace, by 2030 112,000 new cases will be diagnosed.
To help address the problem, in 2012 the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) placed more stringent regulations on sunscreen manufacturers. Most notably, manufacturers must meet specific criteria to use the term “broad spectrum” on their labels.
But with any new regulation comes the challenge of compliance and enforcement. Testing requires a significant coordination effort across hundreds of field laboratories across the country, many of which operate in a disconnected environment. The data collected from test results must be compiled and made available throughout the agency—from labs to headquarters. And scientists often aren’t the typical power user of IT.
Sunscreen testing is one example of a perfect application for visual analytics and Qlik, which empowers scientists in the field with the ability to share and leverage data from any mobile device. In fact, the FDA currently uses Qlik today in the same capacity, but around food safety research. Thousands of users in hundreds of labs across the country use Qlik to share and augment their testing with existing research data, enabling them to quickly access food sample and analysis data and find potential issues.
Gone are the days of scientists collecting data only to be published in a research report. Visual analytics makes this data available not only for regulatory purposes, but also to inform the general public. This application of analytics expands beyond compliance. With the ability to rapidly compile and analyze data, researchers can uncover associations in their results that they weren’t even looking for—like that magic ingredient that’ll make sunscreen truly waterproof.
Back to those “spots”. Most of them are harmless freckles, but I’m sure there are a few sunspots and moles sprinkled in. I’m a 37-year-old, freckle-faced redhead, and I’ve never been to the dermatologist. Meanwhile family members, friends and colleagues (all with far fewer freckles than me) are having cancerous moles and sun spots removed at an alarming rate. I’m making my first dermatologist appointment tomorrow—wish me luck!