VA creates National Artificial Intelligence Institute to advance R&D

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The Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system, is centralizing the agency’s efforts to advance its artificial intelligence research and development capabilities.

The VA on Thursday announced the establishment of the National Artificial Intelligence Institute, a joint initiative by the Office of Research and Development and the Office of the Secretary's Center for Strategic Partnerships.

“VA has a unique opportunity to be a leader in artificial intelligence,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a written statement. “VA’s artificial intelligence institute will usher in new capabilities and opportunities that will improve health outcomes for our nation’s heroes.”

The National Artificial Intelligence Institute will solicit, develop and execute flagship AI research and development projects—with veteran input—focusing on deep learning, explainable AI, privacy-preserving AI as well as AI for multi-scale time series.

Among the resources the NAII will tap is the VA’s Million Veteran Program, the world’s largest genomic knowledge base linked to healthcare information. The Million Veteran Program is designed to link genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military-exposure information to better understand their impact on the health—and illness—of veterans.

“Even while the NAII helps VA build toward AI advances, VA researchers have already been tackling projects that use the technology,” according to the agency. “One of the first tasks the NAII took on was surveying the existing use of AI by VA researchers. For VA studies already underway in a few AI specialty areas, the NAII will examine options for helping them achieve their research goals, find new resources and forge collaborations.”

Gil Alterovitz, who’s on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and specializes in biomedical informatics, has been appointed director of the NAII.

According to the VA, Alterovitz has “led national and international collaborative initiatives for developing novel informatics methods and approaches for integrating clinical, pharmaceutical and genomic information, from research to point-of-care.”

One of the high-profile initiatives Alterovitz has headed is the ONC-funded Sync for Genes program, an effort to help bring clinical genomics to the point-of-care by leveraging HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources for accelerating standardization of sharing patients’ genomic data among health IT systems so it can be easily integrated with other clinical information.

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