UCLA takes leading role in NIH Bridge2AI initiative to generate ‘computable knowledge’ that propels biomedical research forward

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UCLA is one of three sites chosen to oversee a new ‘computable knowledge’ program that will develop strategies, standards and tools to transform the way data is collected and prepared. The NIH Common Fund’s Bridge to Artificial Intelligence (Bridge2AI) program will unlock the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) and propel biomedical and behavioral research forward, addressing current and future challenges.

“New developments every day show the promise of artificial intelligence in biomedical research and in clinical practice. But the potential of these advances, while important and exciting, remain difficult to harness in the real world, and there many technical, social and ethical issues that need to be addressed,” said Alex Bui, a biomedical informatics expert and David Geffen Chair in Informatics at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

He led efforts that secured UCLA’s leadership position in the Bridge2AI program, which Bui said is a “significant shift” in the agency’s approach to AI and biomedical data science.

“Research and technology are producing mountains of data, but making use of it in a systematic way for AI and ML – and then deriving new scientific insights – is a huge challenge,” Bui said. “The Bridge Center will integrate, disseminate and evaluate activities across the Bridge2AI program – and UCLA is leading key elements of this center.”

A team directed by Paul Boutros, a data scientist and professor in human genetics and urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, will lead the Bridge Center’s Tool Optimization Core. It is charged with bringing together all the tools being developed in AI/ML efforts and optimizing them for use by the larger research community in a broad range of research purposes. The Tool Optimization Core includes collaborators from Oregon Health and Science University and Sage Bionetworks, who also will be responsible for getting the new tools into the hands of individual researchers.

“The Bridge2AI program is bringing together computational and biomedical experts, along with other interdisciplinary groups, to turn data into useful information that can enable major advances in clinical and behavioral research,” Boutros said. “Our responsibility is not only to create software and approaches that will address current research, but to build tools that will evolve to address future challenges.”

Dr. Karol Watson, a cardiologist and professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, will lead the Skills & Workforce Development Core along with Dr. Peipei Ping, a professor of physiology, medicine/cardiology, and bioinformatics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Their team’s mission is to bridge expertise across biomedical and behavioral research domains, ethics, AI/ML data science, and team science – establishing a basic understanding and skills in the use of AI/ML, and a deeper understanding of its use within the nation’s biomedical and behavioral research workforce. A particular focus of their efforts is increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in AI/ML efforts.

“Among the major challenges we currently face is the potential for bias using AI/ML with our biomedical and behavioral datasets, and the lack of diverse representation – both within the data and in its application,” Watson said. “As directed by the NIH, our core will incorporate specific outreach, recruitment and retention plans to enhance diversity in both of these areas."

Ping added that the Bridge2AI program will provide opportunities for people with a wide range of interests and skills.

“The interdisciplinary nature of this effort requires collaboration among people from a broad spectrum of expertise, including both technical and nontechnical backgrounds,” she said. “Our goals include developing and implementing educational materials, courses and activities that provide developmental opportunities for people at all career stages, with a focus on opportunity for those from underrepresented backgrounds.”

To accomplish these goals, UCLA is expected to receive over $9.9 million over the next four years.

The other two Bridge Center awardee sites include the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, which provide additional expertise around ethics, standards, and team science.

According to the NIH, the Bridge2AI “program will propel biomedical research forward by setting the stage for widespread adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) that tackles complex biomedical challenges beyond human intuition.” A key step in this process is generating new datasets and best practices for machine learning analysis. By fostering an interdisciplinary community of scientific experts, the Bridge2AI program will help bring solutions to this deficit by:

  • Generating new flagship biomedical and behavioral datasets that are ethically sourced, trustworthy, well-defined, and accessible.
  • Developing software and standards to harmonize across data representations and data types.
  • Creating automated tools to accelerate the creation of FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) and ethically sourced datasets.
  • Providing resources to disseminate data, ethical principles, tools, and best practices.
  • Creating training materials and activities for workforce development that bridges the AI, biomedical, and behavioral research communities.

This project is supported by the National Institutes of Health award number: U54HG012517.

Read the NIH press release on the Bridge2AI launch here.