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HSC receives $50 million to rectify health disparities

🕐 4 min read

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a $50 million award to the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) to lead the coordinating center for the Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Consortium to Advance Health Equity and Researcher Diversity, or AIM-AHEAD, program.

HSC will lead the multi-institutional coordinating center, which brings together experts in community engagement, artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), health equity research, data science training, and data infrastructure, the school said in a news release.

AIM-AHEAD was created to close the gaps in the AI/ML field, which currently lacks diversity in its researchers and in data, including electronic health records.

HSC said these gaps pose a risk of creating and continuing harmful biases in how AI/ML is used, how algorithms are developed and trained, and how findings are interpreted. Critically, these gaps can lead to continued health disparities and inequities for underrepresented communities.

“This consortium will bring together research institutions, minority-serving institutions, private sector and community organizations in mutually beneficial, coordinated, and trusted partnerships to enhance the participation and representation of researchers and communities currently underrepresented in the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said Jamboor Vishwanatha, Ph.D., Regents Professor and Vice President who will lead the AIM-AHEAD Coordinating Center. “Through this consortium we will harness the benefits of this technology to address health disparities in our communities.”

The initial phase of the project started on Sept. 22, 2021, and runs through Sept. 16, 2023. The contract amount for two years is $100 million, with future funding based on federal budget allocation.

This project has a significant impact on the educational, research, and community engagement activities underway at HSC, where bridging health disparities is a top mission, a news release said.

“HSC is thrilled to be leading this important work in health disparities,” said Dr. Michael Williams, HSC President. “The award from NIH to lead the AIM-AHEAD program solidifies HSC as a leader in this critical area and will ensure we continue our mission of creating solutions for a healthier community for many years to come.”

The coordinating center’s location in Fort Worth is a welcomed asset. Fort Worth is continually working to create opportunities for all community members. The city is eager to be part of a national team working to build health equity, the announcement said.

“The City of Fort Worth is honored to partner with HSC and NIH on this important work as we continue to break down barriers that create health disparities,” said Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker. “This is meaningful work that supports our mission of creating opportunity for all in Fort Worth regardless of zip code. We look forward to this opportunity to help drive meaningful change and create solutions around health inequities and disparities in our neighborhoods.”

AIM-AHEAD strives to eliminate harmful biases that exist in algorithms, training, and the interpretation of data while engaging diverse scientists, including those from underrepresented groups, across career pipelines.

The goal of this program is building and advancing AI/ML approaches using electronic health records and other types of data (e.g., genomics, imaging, social determinants of health) to redress health disparities and advance health equity.

There is an emphasis on providing technical assistance and training on research and implementation of AI/ML to lay the groundwork for the preparation of new data systems that can be used by research personnel from diverse backgrounds, including those from underrepresented groups.

“Our world’s increasing reliance on technology and data means strong STEM-focused minds will continue to be in high demand, and we should give Texans in these fields every advantage to succeed,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “I applaud this announcement and will continue to do everything I can to support young minds in Fort Worth.”

Underrepresented communities have untapped potential to contribute new expertise, data, recruitment strategies, and cutting-edge science to the AI/ML field. This program seeks to increase the participation and engagement of the researchers and communities that are currently underrepresented in AI/ML modeling and applications through mutually beneficial partnerships, the news release said.

NIH envisions a multi-year program beginning with FY21 appropriated funds for AI/ML to develop and support a researcher and data network of highly diverse institutions with the capacity and interest to contribute their own data.

“This network will be foundational to achieving the goals of the AIM-AHEAD program, which include providing more inclusive data for health disparities research, and enhancing the diversity of AI/ML leadership,” said NIH Associate Director for Data Science Susan Gregurick, Ph.D.

Tackling the complex drivers of health disparities requires innovation, and a transdisciplinary framework that cuts across scientific and organizational silos to integrate multiple disciplines. NIH is actively seeking public and private partnerships to help achieve the ambitious goals of this program.

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