New Data Science Training Program to Focus on Health Equity

MAY 31, 2022

May 31, 2022 - The National Library of Medicine has awarded the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Clemson University $1.2 million to establish a new data science training program that will teach students to explore the use of big data to address health inequities.

The program, known as SC BIDS4HEALTH, aims to make future data scientists more aware of health inequities and create career development pipelines in biomedical data science for students from underrepresented groups. The program will also place special emphasis on using data science to address the impact of chronic illness in rural communities.

“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 professor of public health sciences at the MUSC College of Medicine, in the press 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.”

The training program will recruit from and build on MUSC’s and Clemson’s joint Biomedical Data Science and Informatics (BDSI) program and from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) statewide. When SC BIDS4HEALTH is fully launched, it will train three predoctoral students and two postdoctoral fellows each year.

Trainees in the program will spend time in underserved communities, working with local groups to use data science to combat health inequities and chronic disease. Experienced data scientists will also mentor trainees, and they will each get the opportunity to teach data science to undergraduates at South Carolina State University (SCSU).

As part of their community outreach work, trainees will have the opportunity to use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict which approaches to addressing chronic disease inequities have the highest likelihood of success. In doing so, the program aims to help ensure that communities of color are reaping the benefits of big data analytics and AI use, which has not always been the case.

There is significant evidence that biases in AI lead to healthcare disparities, so creating awareness around potential bias is key to reducing harm.

“AI can create inequity if you're not careful,” said Brian Dean, PhD, professor in the School of Computing at Clemson and co-director of the training program, in the press release. “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. 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 SC BIDS4HEALTH program intends to allow trainees to see the consequences of health inequities firsthand, guard against AI bias by raising trainee awareness of racial disparities and teach trainees techniques to minimize disparities they come across in their work.

The program will begin enrollment on July 1.