Canadian man proposes Wikipedia of body parts

Ever wanted to know which country has the longest feet in the world? The most predominant hair colour in Russia? Or the average height of a nine year old in Finland? A database project could cover these issues from head to toe

A Canada-based entrepreneur wants to create the world's biggest database on the human body.

Denis Canuel came up with the idea for Wikibody shortly after one of his two daughters was diagnosed with a skin condition known as eczema. After an exhaustive Web search to try and learn more about the state of his daughter's condition, Canuel realized that a comprehensive site with pictures and information on the human body was lacking.

"Maybe I have some kind of rash on my ear and I want to compare it to others around the world," Canuel, who also runs a blog on Quebec-area startups, said. "This isn't something I can do on Google right now, so that's what I want to look at."

Canuel said the database will include pictures and statistics contributed by people around the globe. His ultimate goal is to inventory body parts associated to specific data such as age, sex, height, weight, and ethnicity. Using the Internet to find this kind of data today, he said, is unpredictable and time-consuming.

"I want the database to be taken to the next level with a focus on the academic and medical side of things," he said. "For instance, let's say you have skin cancer and want to know what stage you are at. With this tool, you could compare yourself to others who have it in your country or around the world."

And while the project is still in its planning stage, even Canuel is aware of the potential roadblocks in the way of its success. One of the biggest obstacles, he said, is finding a way to encourage programmers, designers and ultimately, users, to participate in the massive undertaking. On the user side, Canuel said, the fact that Wikibody will be a free, community-based project might attract people that would be otherwise skeptical to participate.

"The toughest thing will be getting users involved," he said. "We need them not only to take a picture of their body part and disease, but also provide as much scientific information about themselves as possible."

Acknowledging that the project could be extremely difficult to pull off, Canuel said he hasn't ruled out the possibility of contacting the Wikimedia Foundation and teaming up with Wikipedia.

This type of project, especially in the medical community, is not entirely new. A related project undertaken by electronic medical records software vendor e-MDs several years ago aimed to create a freely available pharmaceutical reference database. The company developed its open source drug database as a way to hold down the cost of its electronic medical records (EMRs).

"I think we have probably 99 per cent of the drugs out there (in the e-MDs database)," David Winn, CEO at e-MDs, said. "It's very comprehensive."

The company said with an open source product, users are able provide feedback via a public Web site to help keep the database updated and accurate as new drugs and scientific research become available. The database was completed and has recently been licenced.

In addition to this project, a variety of medical databases have popped up in the health care industry tackling some of the issues that Wikibody hopes to address. But where Canuel hopes his project will differ is in its applicability to the average user without any medical background.

"I want this information to be freely available to everybody and in one spot," he said.

Canuel said the project is still at a very early stage and is still searching for full and part-time programmers and designers.

--With files from Neil Versel, Health-IT World

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