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Pittsburgh Alliance Applies Big Data to Health Innovations



16 March 2015. Three institutions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — two universities and a medical center — are collaborating on innovations that make use of the rapidy growing pool of medical data, to develop new technologies that they say will change the way diseases are prevented, diagnosed, and treated. The alliance of Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, and UPMC is also expected to result in new commercial products and services, as well as spin-off companies that contribute to economic development in the region.

The partnership, known as Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance, is expected to tap into massive amounts of data from electronic health records and insurance claims, as well as growing use of genomic profiles and data captured in mobile apps and wearable devices. The partners aim to apply this wealth of data to gain deeper insights into disease that become new methods, processes, and techniques to improve health care for individuals.

Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance is starting with two research and development centers that take advantage of data-centered specialties of the academic partners. Scientists from all three institutions, however, will participate in the work of each center.

The Center for Machine Learning and Health at Carnegie Mellon University will address ways of incorporating machine learning into systems where data from various sources can be harnessed to better define and adjust health care delivery for individuals. This part of the collaboration, led by Eric Xing, a professor of machine learning at Carnegie Mellon, aims to design a new general framework for big data in health care that includes health care analytics, personalized medicine, disease modeling,  privacy and security issues with big data, and education in data issues for health care providers.

The second part of the alliance, Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data, plans to study new technologies for designing individualized diagnostics and therapies, known as theranostics, along with imaging applications. The technologies aim to provide actionable information for personalized medicine to treat cancer and various lung disorders, developing imaging applications with genomic data, and new methods for capturing data as well as analyzing their implications. Michael Becich, chair of University of Pittsburgh’s biomedical informatics department, will lead this center.

UPMC, affiliated with University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, is leading Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance and expected to fund its operations for the first six years. The amount of funding to be provided was not disclosed, but the alliance anticipates benefiting from several hundred million dollars in existing research grants at all three institutions. UPMC Enterprises, the institution’s commercialization arm, will lead the spin-off of solutions from the alliance into new, for-profit companies.

Jeffrey Romoff, the medical center’s CEO, says in a UPMC statement that Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance will contribute to development of a health data ecosystem for the region. “We are unlocking the potential of data,” says Romoff, “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.”

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