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UTHealth awarded $7.3 million for health information technology research

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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IMAGE: UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics researchers earning research grants from the left are Yang Gong, M.D.; Ph.D., Cui Tao, Ph.D.; James Langabeer II, Ph.D., M.B.A., E.M.T.; Hua Xu, Ph.D.; and... view more

Credit: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Biomedical Informatics has been awarded grants totaling $7.3 million to enhance health care and biomedical discovery through the use of health information technology.

The research at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics is focused on developing ways to mine medical data for information that could lead to better treatments and to making medical records more readily available to time-pressed caregivers. Seven grants have been awarded to five principal researchers since June 1.

"We're at the forefront of a transformational era - the health information technology revolution," said Jiajie Zhang, Ph.D., dean and holder of the Dr. Doris L. Ross Professorship at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics. "There's a huge and growing demand for what we do."

The school is the only academic program of biomedical informatics in Texas and the only free-standing school of biomedical informatics in the nation. There are 177 students and graduates hold leadership positions in major health care organizations.

One of the school's big data researchers - Hua Xu, Ph.D. - was awarded grants to enhance the use of medical records in research totaling approximately $4.3 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

"One of the major challenges facing data researchers is how to integrate machine learning algorithms and human wisdom into one system," said Xu, associate professor and holder of the Robert H. Graham Professorship in Entrepreneurial Biomedical Informatics and Bioengineering at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics.

Xu and his team are developing novel interactive machine learning algorithms and software for biomedical text processing problems. Xu also applies such advanced text mining approaches to biomedical data management.

Xu is a part of the Data Discovery Index Coordination Consortium (DDICC) project under the NIH BD2K (Big Data to Knowledge) program. "The consortium will engage the research community to pilot an National Institutes of Health Data Discovery Index, which will catalyze the discoverability, accessibility and citation standards for biomedical big data," Xu said.

Assistant Professor Cui Tao, Ph.D., is using a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. National Library of Medicine to develop a software program to make electronic health records more user-friendly for clinicians.

"We want to make it easier for physicians to access the medical histories of their patients," Tao said. "Some systems may store these patient notes in different places. We're developing a system that will automatically put this information together."

This software package is called Temporal Information Modeling, Extracting and Reasoning or TIMER for short.

Associate Professor Yang Gong, M.D., Ph.D., was awarded a $1.2 million grant for patient safety research by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

When it comes to investigating patient safety events, health care organizations often follow different procedures.

Timely reporting and effective learning from medical incidents are considered useful ways to develop strategies for reducing medical errors. Utilizing an innovative user-centered, learning-supportive and ontological approach combined with case-based reasoning and natural language processing techniques, Gong's team is developing a knowledge base and learning toolkit that can systematically collect and analyze incident reports. They link historical reports with previous analytical results.

"The long-term goal is to understand the causes of medical incidents and to develop interventions to reduce the risk of recurrence," he said.

School of Biomedical Informatics Professor James Langabeer II, Ph.D., M.B.A., E.M.T., was awarded a $240,000 grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) for a Phase 2 study working to enhance the care of heart disease through an analytic model and database.

Langabeer, who also has an appointment as professor and research director in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UTHealth Medical School, said he is building a large database of all heart attacks to help model and assess outcomes for a public service campaign on the importance of seeking immediate care for the symptoms of a heart attack.

The data will be used to improve emergency cardiovascular care, reduce mortality and improve quality outcomes. Phase 1 of this study resulted in some novel findings that helped to provide a foundation for emergency medical service transport of patients, which were reported in several important clinical journals. The study is being done in conjunction with data from the American College of Cardiology.

Associate Professor Trevor Cohen, MBChB, M.D., Ph.D., received a $160,000 grant from the U.S. National Library of Medicine to contribute to the development of the DDICC. "It will facilitate dataset search, retrieval and re-use," Cohen said. "These datasets are all publicly available and this search engine will be open to the public."

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Xu was awarded U.S. National Library of Medicine (2R01LM010681-05), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (1U24HL126126-01) and National Institute of General Medical Sciences (1R01GM103859-01A1); Tao received U.S. National Library of Medicine (1R01LM011829-01A1); Gong received AHRQ grant (1R01HS022895-01A1); Cohen was awarded U.S. National Library of Medicine (3R01LM011563-02S1); and Langabeer received AHA grant CARUTH2.

Xu also has appointment on the faculty of The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.

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