Harnessing big data to achieve health equity in South Carolina

With $1.2 million in funding from the National Library of Medicine, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Clemson University will establish a new training program that aims to make future data scientists more aware of health inequities. It will also build career development pipelines in biomedical data science for students from underrepresented minorities. The program will place special emphasis on using data science to address the toll chronic illness takes on rural communities.

South Carolina is the ideal location for a training program focused on addressing health inequities. Forty-three of its 46 counties, many of them rural, are designated as completely or partially medically underserved by the Health Resource and Services Agency (HRSA). South Carolina ranks 42nd for life expectancy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), due in part to its high levels of chronic disease. The state has the eighth highest rate of diabetes (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control) and sixth highest rate of stroke deaths (CDC) in the nation.

The leaders of the SC BIDS4HEALTH training program believe that harnessing big data could help to change that.

“Informatics and data science can be used to identify patients in need of extra health system resources. 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.” — Alexander Alekseyenko, Ph.D.

“Informatics and data science can be used to identify patients in need of extra health system resources,” said Alexander Alekseyenko, Ph.D., principal investigator of the new program. “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.” Alekseyenko is a professor of Public Health Sciences in the MUSC College of Medicine and a member of the Biomedical Informatics Center.

“Programs such as SC BIDS4Health are essential in addressing the current lack of diversity in STEM fields. This program is a game-changer in showing brilliant young students the career possibilities that are open to them.” — Marvella Ford, Ph.D.

The training program will build on and recruit from the MUSC and Clemson joint Biomedical Data Science and Informatics (BDSI) program as well as from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) statewide. When in full swing, it will train three predoctoral students and two postdoctoral fellows each year.

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