How supercomputers and data science improve health equity

High-performance computing resources are powering data science applications and programs that will improve health equity.

The field of data science has opened new approaches to discoveries that address health equity issues. Applications of EHR, medical imaging, and genomic data to drug discovery and precision medicine are expanding. They also have tremendous potential to reduce health disparities.

But storing and these data science methods to impact health equity requires high-performance computing clusters.

data science health equity research

Learn about the graduate data science programs at Meharry SACS.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) has provided a significant boost to this data-driven research.

The HRSA recently awarded Meharry SACS $1 million to fund a supercomputer cluster to support student- and faculty-specialized genomics research. This high-performance computing resource is critical to big data research that will enhance Meharry’s ability to serve underserved populations and improve the health disparities among minority communities nationwide.

The HRSA-funded supercomputer is the third high-performance computing cluster on campus. Meharry also has a cloud computing infrastructure. These computing resources are essential to big data research that can address health equity.

How do supercomputers expand Meharry’s data science work for health equity?

These supercomputing resources significantly expand our work in health equity by allowing Meharry to:

  1. Support and expand multi-disciplinary research in big data and areas with high computational needs,
  2. Provide the necessary computing power for state-of-the-art genetics studies, deep learning, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data visualization, and other functions requiring high-performance computing,
  3. Provide historically underrepresented minority students in computational sciences and data sciences exposure to the computing resources they will later use in their career and
  4. Expand educational and research outreach in high-performance computing in Middle Tennessee and with other HBCUs.

Meharry, supercomputers, data science and health equity

Meharry’s strategic plan calls for the College to become a leader in data-driven, health equity focused research. The data science programs at Meharry SACS, diverse data from the Meharry Health System, and the academic and research units across Meharry are combining to achieve that vision.

High-performance computing is essential for data science research applications to Electronic Health Records (EHR), medical imaging, and genomic data are expanding and can improve drug discovery and precision medicine with tremendous potential to reduce health disparities.

But there is more involved than applying data science algorithms. EHR, genomic, and other biomedical and health care data is massive in size. It must not only be rapidly analyzed, but also efficiently stored. Supercomputers provide the data storage solutions to manage the full lifecycle of the big data research work at Meharry academic health science center. High performance computing systems can quickly respond to workflow changes, such as data generation, analysis, and archive scenarios, as well as capacity and performance demands. That means researchers can have the right storage available for the right data, at the right time.

Genomics and health disparities

The supercomputer cluster funded by the HRSA will support student- and faculty-specialized genomics research. Genomics research is a relatively new approach that is critical to advancing health disparities.

Studying genomics expands beyond biology to include environmental health factors. Researchers Jooma, Hahn, Hindoff and Bonham say that “health equity in the context of genomics requires an understanding of how biology influences disease and how disease is influenced by biological and non-biological determinants of health (such as environmental, psychosocial, and socioeconomic factors) in all populations.”

Genomics has tremendous potential to advance personalized medicine. Personalized medicine is improving diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It can also help predict how someone will respond to drugs and provide better information for drug prescriptions and dosages.

These impacts can be life changing, if not lifesaving. But these improvements are not possible without high-performance computers that can both store and analyze genomic data its sequences. But for personalized medicine to impact all races, it must be based on data that represents all races.

Supercomputing clusters provide the storage and processing capability for data-driven genomics research. As an HBCU committed to health equity, Meharry will continue to pursue collaborative research using datasets that represent the diversity of society.

Research and educational outreach for minority students

Increasing diversity among the data scientists will reduce unintended biases that can lead to heath disparities. Meharry is committed to increasing that representation by exposing underrepresented students of all ages to data science education. Our supercomputing resources power those efforts.

Meharry has a great history in engaging students of all ages to STEM education. For more than 100 years, Meharry has had a strong STEM engagement with underrepresented populations. Meharry’s Office of Community Outreach hosts community, K-12, and undergraduate STEM programs, including GRE preparation sessions. Meharry SACS is forming partnerships with other HBCUs by creating synergies and pipelines from K-12 to undergraduate education at HBCUs that lead to Meharry’s graduate programs in computational science.

data science robotics program for k-12 students
Dr. Vibhuti Gupta works with high school students during Meharry Summer Data Science Academy.

Supercomputing systems also enhance the computational infrastructure for research and teaching at Meharry. Meharry SACS is committed to innovative academic and research programs. Faculty pursue impactful research in health disparities, COVID-19, genomics and other areas that can benefit society. Students also have opportunities to join faculty in this work, providing valuable, hands-on experiences. Supercomputing resources are central to these efforts. They add value by supporting:

  1. Broader faculty research that will also engage students,
  2. Opportunities for institutional resource sharing that can transform the education of current STEM and medical students,
  3. Recruitment and retention of future minority STEM students,
  4. Collaborative opportunities among region-wide data science industry leaders, and
  5. Research and education outreach for minority populations in Middle Tennessee.

Our supercomputer resources drive cutting-edge research, foster new collaborations, and collaborative data science research. They also support expanded training for minority computational biologists and data scientists. The collective impact could extend far beyond our single Historically Black College to serve underserved populations and improve health disparities nationwide.

Sources

Jooma, Sonya, Hahn, Michael, J., Hindorff, Lucia A., and Bonham, Vence L. “Defining and Achieving Health Equity in Genomic Medicine.” February 21, 2019. Accessed Nov. 2, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6428182/#:~:text=Health%20equity%20in%20the%20context%20of%20genomics%20requires%20an%20understanding,socioeconomic%20factors)%20in%20all%20populations

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