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TACC Key Partner in Data Science Initiative for Women’s Health

Nov. 7, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin today announced a new partnership with the Dell Medical School’s Women’s Health research team to be spearheaded by Kelly Gaither, who joins Dell Med as an associate professor. Gaither will remain in her position as director of visualization and a senior research scientist at TACC and split her time between the two appointments.

Gaither has been TACC’s director of visualization for 16 years and is a prominent leader in scientific visualization and data analytics for the open science community. In her new role, she will help the medical school develop an innovative data-driven infrastructure that will include data collections, data mining, machine learning, statistics, visualization, and computational and statistical models. These methodologies will help physicians make real-time decisions and convey the results to patients, other physicians, the lay public, and policy makers.  

“Kelly and the experience she brings from TACC are invaluable,” said Radek Bukowski, associate chair for discovery and investigation in the Department of Women’s Health and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Dell Medical School. “It’s very clear that the Dell Medical School and TACC have a lot of overlapping interests and complimentary skillsets. Health care providers recognize that they need to change the way things are done in an increasingly data-driven society. Technology and data science are crucial in finding causes for a variety of health outcomes.”

The Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin welcomed its first class in June 2016. Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas, the new teaching hospital, opened in May 2017.

In the current health care environment, many clinicians make decisions that are based on data, but a vast majority of collected data is not used and very often the data may not be optimal, complete, or entirely accurate. Clinicians would benefit from a rigorous data-driven infrastructure that would allow them to make decisions and discover causal factors for a variety of different health-related issues, including stillbirth, preterm birth, and neonatal death. The collaboration as planned would also help lead to new care delivery models and could be applied to other conditions such as maternal mortality.  

“TACC will play a large role in providing the infrastructure and the resources for computation and data storage, but we will also provide intellectual capital,” Gaither said. “TACC has the type of people with skillsets that the medical school needs right now. I think, long-term, we’re going to play a big partnership role because in many ways we need each other.”

TACC research associates Tomislav Urban and Dave Semeraro will work with Gaither to contribute expertise in data extraction and visualization. TACC’s data, visualization, life sciences and high-performance computing groups will also be in close collaboration with the Dell Medical School.

Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation), and this number is rising globally and in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization.

“We have a large collection of data on women’s health and we’re going to run statistical models to see if we can find initial indicators that contribute to preterm birth in the U.S.,” Gaither said. “We will start by investigating causality for stillbirth because mathematically, it has a well-defined outcome, but more importantly, it is emotionally devastating, and the long-term cost both physically and emotionally is significant.”

Along with data science and scientific visualization, TACC will make some of the world’s best supercomputers available to researchers and students at the Dell Medical School.

“Our medical school is interested in generating a new kind of doctor, one that is technologically savvy, one that is very plugged into data sources and technology,” Gaither said. “We’ve talked about creating a new culture of students that use different kinds of technology to change the way they think about medicine and to aid the decision-making process. It could revolutionize the way that health care is conducted, administered and conveyed.”

According to Bukowski, Austin is a unique environment for this kind of initiative to take place. “The University of Texas at Austin has excellent expertise in computer science, mathematics and data science,” he said. “The new Dell Medical School has a mission of improving health in our community and throughout the Central Texas region, and Austin’s population is committed to improving health care.”

The Dell Medical School Data Science Group aims to hire five faculty and five non-faculty members with a variety of data science skills. Gaither is the first hire.

“Data science is important to medicine—we’re not getting the information we could from what we collect,” Bukowski said. “We are spending a huge amount of money for diagnostic tests and therapeutic intervention that may not translate into improvement in life expectancy and the quality of life. That’s where we come in with this initiative.”