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Jessica Kent 

With more than $3 million in funding, the Center will use big data analytics to advance precision medicine worldwide.

Duke University Pratt School of Engineering has established a new big data analytics center that will support global research to advance precision medicine.

Launched last month, the Sherry and John Woo Center for Big Data and Precision Health will receive more than $3 million in funding over the next three years from philanthropist and biotech industry executive John Woo. The Center will help Duke faculty and students develop innovative methods for turning big data into actionable clinical insights.

Investigators will have new opportunities to work with hospitals, government agencies, and biotech companies worldwide to advance data-driven health research.

“Big data, analytics, and machine learning are changing our world significantly, and nowhere will the change be more significant and meaningful than in healthcare,” said Ravi V. Bellamkonda, Vinik Dean of Engineering at Duke.

“Duke Engineering and Duke Health are collaboratively leading this change, and the Woo Center will help catalyze this further by coordinating new partnerships, expanding access to diverse, well-curated datasets and fueling transformative research ideas in this space.”

The center already has research efforts under way in China, where a team is developing a national network of health data parks to improve rural care delivery.

The new facility will also award annual pilot grants of up to $150,000 to Duke faculty so they can explore new ideas for collaborative projects.

In addition, the center will hold a yearly symposium to highlight significant findings to further build a global community of researchers. Leaders plan to sponsor global internships and exchanges for Duke students, as well as business plan and pitch competitions.

“Big data and precision medicine have the potential to vastly improve human health, and Duke has a special role to play with its unique combination of strengths in data science and machine learning, biomedical engineering and medicine—our faculty are world leaders in each of these areas,” said Larry Carin, Vice Provost for Research at Duke.

“Through new partnerships in China and around the world, we hope to address pressing medical issues in emerging markets and reduce disparities to improve global health.”

Duke University expects that the new Woo Center will add to its existing research efforts and will help foster the study of healthcare big data analytics

“Duke is already at the forefront of bringing big data and precision medicine into clinical practice,” said Xiling Shen, the Hawkins Family Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and director of the new center. 

“We’re excited about the opportunities this new center will open for our faculty and students to build productive new collaborations with clinicians and biotech companies to make an impact for patients.”

Other organizations have established similar facilities to improve care delivery.

In September 2018, the New Jersey Hospital Association launched a big data analytics center to identify and address gaps in care. Researchers plan to use predictive modeling and other analytics strategies to extract meaningful insights from big data.

“So many of the problems we see in healthcare today – racial and ethnic disparities, access to care barriers, variations in use of healthcare services, variables in access and funding of prevention and wellness – require a deeper dive intowhy,” said NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett.

“One of the ways we get closer to answering that question is to have solid data that shows us the root causes of these problems. We can then support design of solutions that address the foundation of the problem, rather than the symptoms.”

The University of California, Irvine (UCI), also recently launched an artificial intelligence center to help researchers develop deep learning tools and apply them to big data. The new center will allow researchers and faculty to collaborate and translate AI-based concepts into clinical tools that will improve patient health.

Additionally, Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin has established a big data analytics center, called the Biomedical Data Science Hub. The facility will use big data analytics to enhance population health research, showing how both clinical and non-clinical factors affect health outcomes.

“To increase the pace of innovation in health, high-quality data needs to be ubiquitous and analysis much richer, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve with the data hub,” said Clay Johnston, MD, PhD, Dean of the Medical School.

“UT already has so much strength in this area, and now it’s about directing that toward the key questions in health including addressing health inequities in our community.”