Finding Red Balloons for Clinical Trials
Six degrees of separation aka, the network concept, is already affecting recruitment for clinical trials. This has dramatically shifted our approach, highlighting new pathways that find the red balloons for clinical trials: appropriate patients, best physicians and the optimal site locations.
What do Guglielmo Marconi, mathematicians, a psychologist, Facebook, MIT and red balloons have to do with clinical trails? Keep reading.
Guglielmo Marconi, father of wireless communication, a 1909 Physics Nobel prize honoree and successful business man, is credited as the first to introduce the idea of “six degrees of separation” between humans. Marconi focused on building a monopolistic network of wireless transmitter/receiver stations. To do this, he needed a large network of wireless stations. He estimated that on average, he would need no more than 6 stations (5.83, to be specific) between any two individuals wishing to communicate.
Years later, in their paper titled “Contacts and Influence”, mathematicians Ithiel de Sola Pool and Manfred Kochen explored Marconi’s concept further by building a theoretical infrastructure for thinking about social networks, or “small worlds”.
In the late 1960′s, academic psychologist Stanley Milgram, famous for “Milgram’s test”, conducted the “small world” experiment to measure the “degree of separation” between any two persons in the U.S. In this clever experiment, Milgram sent packages to randomly selected individuals in Omaha, Nebraska and Wichita, Kansas. Each package contained detailed instructions on a specific target contact located in Boston, Massachusetts, the end point of the experiment. The instructions included a roster which collected the names of those who facilitated the package on its journey. Ultimately, the packages reached intended recipients, recorded in an average of just 5.5 to 6 steps. This was surprisingly close to Guglielmo Marconi’s calculations decades earlier.
Fast-forward to the year 2008: Facebook measured 5.28 steps as the average distance between any two Facebook users. Only a few years later, in 2011, this measurement shrank to 4.74 steps, perhaps hinting at the fact that Facebook is further tightening the network among humans.
In 2009, DARPA presented a now famous challenge to researchers in the U.S. This involved finding 10 red balloons positioned in 10 random locations within the continental U.S. This challenge was part of a larger event celebrating the birth of the Internet (then called Arpanet). The point of the DARPA challenge was to measure how efficiently 10 small red balloons could be located. The winner was a team of MIT researchers. By leveraging their own personal social networks, they identified the precise locations of all 10 balloons in an amazing 8 hours and 52 minutes.
The individuals mentioned above along with many others have contributed to the notion that human beings naturally function in networks. This, of course, includes Physicians who like all of us, organize into professional and social networks, communities, circles and cliques. Six degrees of separation aka, the network concept, is already affecting recruitment for clinical trials. This has dramatically shifted our approach, highlighting new pathways that find the red balloons of clinical trials: appropriate patients, best physicians and the optimal site locations.