Scientists mine Twitter to discover drug side-effects

Washington: Using Twitter data, scientists have invented a new technique for discovering potentially dangerous drug interactions and unknown side-effects.

The results can help build a computer programme that can efficiently search millions of tweets on Twitter for the names of many drugs and medicines and build a map of how they are connected, using the #hashtags that link them.

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“Our new algorithm is a great way to make discoveries that can be followed-up and tested by experts like clinical researchers and pharmacists,” said Ahmed Abdeen Hamed, a computer scientist at University of Vermont who led the creation of the new tool.

With this approach, “we can quickly find clear evidence of drugs that are linked together via hashtags”, Hamed said.

This approach could also be used to generate public alerts before a clinical examination is started or before health care providers have received updates.

“It can tell us: we may be seeing a drug/drug interaction here. Beware.”

The team has created a website that will allow an examiner to explore the connections between search terms (say “albuterol”), existing scientific studies that are indexed and Twitter hashtags associated with the terms and studies.

Previous studies have shown that Twitter can be mined for bad drug interactions.

A report on how the algorithm works was published in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics.