NEW HAVEN, CT—The VA along with the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have established a partnership to share health data, research, and expertise in the battle against COVID-19. VA and HHS will use the DOE’s high-speed computing facilities and artificial intelligence capabilities to conduct research into the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes.
The three agencies hope that by combining their efforts they can facilitate development of vaccines and therapies, while building a deeper understanding of the virus, outcomes, and other critical COVID-19 related research topics.
Amy Justice, MD, staff physician at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System and CNH Long Professor of medicine and professor of Public Health at Yale University, will be the VA-DOE Scientific Liaison and head of the Data/Analytics group. She will focus on maximizing the clinical impact of the agencies’ joint research. She performed a similar role in another cooperative research initiative between the VA and DOE.
“The DOE has a brilliant team of experts in artificial intelligence and VA has experienced clinical investigators. They asked me to help bridge communication and prioritization among these teams. As a physician, I understand the context in which clinical notes are written, labs are ordered, and medications are prescribed. As an experienced clinical investigator, I understand the strengths and limitations of conventional statistical techniques used to analyze these data,” explained Justice. “Because of my prior work with the DOE labs, when the idea came forward that we should put together all the federal data to try to address COVID, the task force was created and I was asked to take a leadership position.”
Analysis of health data using artificial intelligence enables the detection of associations and connections between data that might never be obvious to humans while permitting rapid analysis of massive quantities of data that would otherwise take months or years to evaluate.
“The volume and quality of the data HHS has on COVID-19 has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent months. The Department of Energy’s world-class resources will help us derive new insights from the data we gather to help patients and protect our country,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Similarly, the VA has a tremendous amount of data on veterans who have contracted COVID-19 and their treatment.
“Our nation’s understanding of COVID-19 has already benefitted greatly from our world-leading high-performance computing and artificial intelligence resources and we look forward to continuing our coordination across federal departments and agencies in the fight against this virus,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette.
The DOE houses the nation’s fastest supercomputer, Summit, at its Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The supercomputer is already crunching massive amounts of data to help speed identification and evaluation of potential treatments for patients with COVID-19.
The DOE and other agencies are also working with academic institutions through the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to develop vaccines and new therapies for the novel coronavirus.