South Carolina universities get $1.2M to tackle health inequities using big data

The Charleston-based Medical University of South Carolina and Clemson (S.C.) University have received a $1.2 million grant from the National Library of Medicine to use big data and artificial intelligence to reduce health disparities in the state and beyond.

The SC BIDS4Health program will enroll its first trainees July 1. It aims to train future data scientists to be more aware of health disparities and boost biomedical data science career opportunities among underrepresented minority students.

"Informatics and data science can be used to identify patients in need of extra health system resources," said Alexander Alekseyenko, PhD, principal investigator of the new program and a public health sciences professor at MUSC, in a May 25 news release. "They can also help to identify areas within the health system where we are not as efficient in serving specific populations who are experiencing health inequities."

While the U.S. struggles with health disparities as a whole, made clear by the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of South Carolina is particularly vulnerable to them. Forty-three of its 46 counties, many in rural parts of the state, are designated as medically underserved by the Health Resources and Services Administration. It ranks 42nd in life expectancy, according to the CDC.

The initiative also aims to make sure AI doesn't lead to more inequities.

"If you have a smart medical decision-making system that's trained on data, and the training data doesn't represent the population in the right way, then the actual output of the decision-making system can actually create bias," said Brian Dean, PhD,  a co-director of the training program and professor of computing at Clemson. "So I think that an important component of the program is how you can leverage AI and data science in the right way to address these sorts of issues."

The program will train three predoctoral students and two postdoctoral fellows each year and also recruit from historically black colleges and universities statewide.

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