Pittsburgh alliance plans 'data-heavy' health innovations

Aims to 'further accelerate the development of evidence-based medicine, and augment disease-centered models with patient-centered models of care'
By Mike Miliard
11:13 AM
Pittsburgh photo by Ronald C. Yochum Jr. via Wikipedia

Billed as a "one-of-a-kind" new partnership between academic heavyweights, UPMC, University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have joined forces to drive big innovations in healthcare analytics.

The new Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance aims to capitalize on the huge amounts of data proliferating in electronic health records, diagnostic images, prescriptions, genomic profiles, insurance claims and consumer devices.

Leveraging "big data" to revolutionize healthcare and wellness is the focus of the new Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance, a collaboration announced today by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC.

[See also: Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda receives grant for eHealth research]

Funded by UPMC, the alliance's advances will be driven by work at Pitt and CMU, officials say, with participation from all three institutions. Researchers will work toward harnessing health data into new technologies and services to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment and patient engagement.

The new centers at CMU and Pitt will be funded over the next six years by UPMC, and will benefit from several hundred million dollars in existing research grants at all three institutions.

The goal, says UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff, is an "innovation ecosystem" for health data in western Pennsylvania and beyond.

The diverse strengths of the alliances three members are evident in the health science advancements at Pitt, computer science and machine learning breakthroughs at CMU and the clinical data and commercialization expertise of UPMC, officials say.

"The complementary strengths of the alliance’s partner institutions will allow us to re-imagine health care for millions of people in our shared, data-driven world," said CMU President Subra Suresh, in a press statement.

"Through this collaboration, we will move more rapidly to immediate prevention and remediation, further accelerate the development of evidence-based medicine, and augment disease-centered models with patient-centered models of care," he said.

[See also: UPMC data centers go green with wind]

Initially, the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance will include two research and development centers: the Center for Machine Learning and Health at Carnegie Mellon, and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data at the University of Pittsburgh. Scientists from all three institutions will participate in the work of each center, officials say.

The CMLH, led by CMU professor Eric Xing, will tackle healthcare problems that could be solved with machine learning. Data from sources as varied as electronic medical records, genomic sequencing, insurance records and wearable sensors will be utilized to directly improve healthcare.

The CCA, led by Michael Becich, MD, chair of the department of biomedical informatics at Pitt, will research and invent new technologies for potential use in commercial theranostics and imaging systems for patients and physicians. Some areas of focus for CCA will be personalized medicine; genomics and imaging data; and methods for data capture and healthcare analytics.

"We are unlocking the potential of data to tackle some of our nation’s biggest challenges: raising the quality and reducing the cost of health care. Not only will this effort benefit patients, but it also will accelerate Pittsburgh’s revitalization," said Romoff.

"Through this partnership, our brilliant scientists at Pitt and CMU will have unprecedented resources for turning their innovative ideas into products and services that can truly better the lives of patients and society," added Patrick Gallagher, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, in a statement. "The knowledge created here will result in the spin-off of many new companies and thousands of new jobs over the next decade."

UPMC Enterprises, the commercialization arm of UPMC, aims to turn these innovative ideas into new, for-profit companies and jobs, officials say, building on its nearly 20-year track record of investing in and growing companies that solve healthcare problems.

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