Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Pennsylvania alliance aims to revolutionise big data for healthcare

Steve Rogerson
March 31, 2015
 
Carnegie Mellon, University (CMU), the University of Pittsburg and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) have formed an alliance to look at how big data can revolutionise healthcare and wellness. The Pittsburg Health Data Alliance is being funded by UPMC by up to US$20m a year for the next six years with participation from all three institutions.
 
Today’s health care system generates massive amounts of data – patient information in the electronic health record, diagnostic imaging, prescriptions, genomic profiles, insurance records, even data from wearable devices. Information has always been essential for guiding the care of individuals, but computer tools now make it possible to use these data to provide deeper insights into disease itself.
 
For example, the use of smart data could help hospitals and doctors rapidly detect potential new outbreaks and immediately alert staff and authorities to take appropriate actions. Systems based around this principle of finding emerging events in complex data sets have already been made possible by collaborations among the three bodies.
 
This one-of-a-kind alliance is said to be a wide-reaching commitment to advance technology and creating new data-heavy health care innovations over the coming years, resulting in spin-off companies and furthering economic development in the region.
 
The three centres will work to transform the explosion of health-related data into new technologies, products and services to change the way diseases are prevented and how patients are diagnosed, treated and engaged in their own care.
 
Using health care data to its full potential will require close collaboration among the leading health sciences research at the University of Pittsburg, world-class computer science and machine learning at CMU, and the clinical care, extensive patient data and commercialisation expertise at UPMC. The close proximity and talent among these organisations could provide the ideal setting to transform all aspects of health care, not only in western Pennsylvania but around the world.
 
“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 Subra Suresh, president of CMU. “Through this collaboration, we will move more rapidly to immediate prevention and remediation, further accelerate the development of evidence-based medicine, and augment disease-centred models with patient-centred models of care.”
 
The research centres at CMU and University of Pittsburg will be funded over the next six years by UPMC and also will benefit from several hundred million dollars in existing research grants at all three institutions. They promise to create what UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff calls an “innovation ecosystem” for health data in the region.
 
“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,” said Romoff. “Not only will this effort benefit patients, but it also will accelerate Pittsburgh’s revitalisation.”
 
Corporate partners and entrepreneurs from around the world will want to be close to this health care data hub, he predicted, just as Google, Apple and Disney already have space in or near Oakland to be close to CMU’s and the University of Pittsburg’s talented faculty and students.
 
The alliance will support applied research and commercialisation, along with basic foundational research in medicine and computer science.
 
“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,” said Patrick Gallagher, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. “The knowledge created here will result in the spin-off of many new companies and thousands of new jobs over the next decade.”
 
Initially, the alliance will include two research and development centres: the Center for Machine Learning & Health (CMLH), led by founding director Eric Xing, a CMU professor in the Department of Machine Learning; and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (CCA), spearheaded by Michael Becich, chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburg. Scientists from all three institutions will participate in the work of each centre.
 
The CMLH will work on problems at the intersections of health care and machine learning. Data from sources as varied as electronic medical records, genomic sequencing, insurance records and wearable sensors will be used directly to improve health care. For example, imagine a smartphone app that suggests the single dietary change that will most improve a person’s health, based on genetic makeup and medical history. Or suppose a physician receives an automatic alert when a patient enters the earliest stages of rejecting a transplanted organ and can react while the condition is most easily treatable.
 
The centre will focus on five areas: big health care data analytics; personalised medicine and disease modelling; issues of privacy, security and compliance in the context of big data; data-driven patient and provider education and training; and a general framework for big data in health care.
 
The CCA at the University of Pittsburgh will research and invent technology for potential use in commercial theranostics and imaging systems for patients and doctors. Theranostics works to develop individualised therapies for various diseases, and to combine diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities. These technologies will be based on intelligently engineered big data systems. Some areas of focus for CCA will be: personalised medicine for understanding diseases such as cancer and various lung disorders; genomics and imaging data; and methods for data capture and health care analytics. A key goal is technologies and methods to create actionable information.
 
UPMC Enterprises, the commercialisation arm of UPMC, will lead the efforts to turn these ideas into new, for-profit companies and jobs, building on its nearly 20-year track record of investing in and growing companies that solve health care problems.