Amazon Web Services Teams With Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance to Improve Care SCS Faculty Members Lead Team Developing Tools to Understand Tumor Cells

Wendy Zellner, UPMCWednesday, August 7, 2019

A team led by Russell Schwartz, professor of biological sciences and computational biology (shown) and Associate Professor Jian Ma will use AWS to develop algorithms and software tools to better understand tumor cells.

The Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance (PHDA) has announced that it is working closely with Amazon Web Services (AWS), an company, through a machine learning research sponsorship, to advance innovation in areas such as cancer diagnostics, precision medicine, voice-enabled technologies and medical imaging.

A unique consortium formed four years ago by UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, the PHDA uses the big data generated in health care — including patient information in the electronic health record, diagnostic imaging, prescriptions, genomic profiles and insurance records — to transform the way diseases are treated and prevented, and to better engage patients in their own care. New machine learning technologies and advances in computing power, like those offered by Amazon SageMaker and Amazon EC2, make it possible to rapidly translate insights discovered in the lab into treatments and services that could dramatically improve human health.

Through the AWS Machine Learning Research sponsorship, PHDA scientists from both Pitt and CMU expect to accelerate research and product commercialization efforts across eight projects, enabling doctors to better predict the course of a person's disease and response to treatment; use a patient's verbal and visual cues to diagnose and treat mental health symptoms; and reduce medical diagnostic errors by mining all the data in a patient's medical record. Data is secure, anonymized and stays with PHDA institutions.

A CMU team led by Russell Schwartz, professor of biological sciences and computational biology, and Jian Ma, associate professor of computational biology, will use AWS support to develop algorithms and software tools to better understand the origin and evolution of tumor cells. This project will use machine learning to gain insights into how tumors develop and to predict how they are likely to change and grow in the future.

"Data-driven, genomic methods guided by an understanding of cancers as evolutionary systems have relevance to numerous aspects of clinical cancer care," Schwartz said. "These include determining which precancerous lesions are likely to become cancers, which cancers have a good or bad prognosis, and which of those with bad prognoses might respond long-term to specific therapies."

At Pitt, researcher David Vorp and his team will use AWS resources to improve the diagnosis and treatment of abdominal aortic aneurysms, the 13th-leading cause of death in western countries. "With the latest advances in machine learning, we are developing an algorithm that will provide clinicians with an objective, predictive tool to guide surgical interventions before symptoms appear, improving patient outcomes," said Vorp, associate dean for research at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering and the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering.

For more information, read the full announcement on the PHDA website.

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