Google to establish Minnesota office as projects with Mayo Clinic expand and mature

The Rochester facility, which won't open until staff COVID-19 safety comes more into focus, will enable the two organizations to build on their "shared cultures of collaboration" said Mayo CIO Cris Ross.
By Mike Miliard
03:26 PM

Google will open new office space in the Conley-Maass-Downs building (seen here in 1909) near the Mayo Clinic campus.

Google announced Thursday that it would open first office in Minnesota – a new Rochester-based space that will enable employees to work more closely with the Mayo Clinic on an array of ongoing cloud and artificial intelligence projects.

The office, which will open at Collider Coworking in downtown Rochester once local and state COVID-19 guidelines say it's safe, adds another layer of commitment to the strategic partnership Google and Mayo Clinic first announced in 2019.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of coming together to come up with innovative ways of tackling health challenges," said Chris Mueller, software engineer at Google Cloud and site lead at the new space. "We are excited to officially join the Rochester community and deepen our collaboration with Mayo Clinic as we work together to transform health through technology."

"We've been spending the last year and a half building a lot of foundational work around how we store and manage data in a private and secure way," said Mayo Clinic CIO Cris Ross about the collaboration with Google, during a Thursday conference call.

"We've done things like move 10 million patient records in a safe and secure way into this environment so we can begin to analyze it and use it for patient care," he said, "and we've announced our first collaboration with Google in the artificial intelligence and machine learning space, which is around improving how we deliver radiotherapy for cancer patients, improving the speed, accuracy, quality and reducing cost of the effort required to plan and deliver that therapy. We're in the early stages of evaluating the effectiveness of the technology, and we're very encouraged.

"I'm really proud of what the joint Global Mayo team has accomplished so far," Ross added. "We've been hard at work laying the technical groundwork for a lot of innovation with security and privacy, foundational to everything we do. But having this new space to facilitate our collaboration will really help us accelerate innovation and help us work towards a shared vision of a data-centric future which we think can transform patient and care provider experiences and reduce the cost of care."

Since launching their 10-year partnership in September 2019, Mayo Clinic and Google have worked closely on a wide array of clinical and operational use cases – pushing troves of data to the cloud, harnessing artificial intelligence for imaging and decision support and exploring novel approaches to COVID-19 treatment and public health.

Even before the collaboration was launched, Mayo Clinic was already a major machine learning innovator. James D. Buntrock, the health system's vice chair of IT enterprise technology services, noted this past year that Mayo launched an internal workgroup to find new AI opportunities – but "to our surprise, we identified more than 200 activities that were using some sort of AI or machine learning methodology."

Mostly those were in places one might expect – imaging, digital pathology, cardiology and genomics – but with Google, the health system has "continued to expand [its] interest in applying AI techniques to complex problems," said Buntrock.

Dr. John Halamka, who was named president of Mayo Clinic Platform just after the Google partnership was announced, has said the Google partnership has been transforming approaches to clinical decision support in Rochester and beyond.

"Imagine the power to an AI algorithm if you could make available every pathology slide that has ever been created in the history of the Mayo Clinic," Halamka said in May 2020. "That's something we're certainly working on."

Mayo's work with Google Cloud has been gaining steam over the past year and a half – and especially in the past 12 months. As Halamka has noted, "COVID-19 forced us to collaborate much faster and advance to many more cloud functions than we probably would have without the pandemic."

"Part of what drew us to partner with Google was our shared cultures of collaboration," said Ross, in a prepared statement about the new Google office. "While the pandemic has accelerated usage of many valuable forms of remote collaboration and virtual health services, it has also caused us to truly appreciate in-person experiences and connection.

"We're excited to have this physical space designed to deepen our bond and facilitate innovation, where Google engineers will work side by side with Mayo Clinic researchers, physicians, information technology staff and data scientists to apply advanced computing techniques to health care problems," he added.

"Google putting down roots in Minnesota will provide sustained economic opportunity not only for the Rochester area, but for our entire state," said Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. "This partnership with the Mayo Clinic reinforces Minnesota's reputation as a welcoming state for innovation and economic opportunity. We welcome Google to our community."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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