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Artificial intelligence creates computer algorithms and systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, including learning from past experiences. Health care hopes to use the power of these algorithms and systems to improve diagnosis, care, and treatment.  The area of health research, however, has historically been biased due to samples drawn from narrowly defined populations.  This narrow sampling can result in biased conclusions that may or may not be relevant across gender, race and ethnicity groups.

The mission of the Institute for Equitable Health Data Science Research, created in February 2024 at UIC, is to analyze and eliminate potential biases before they are unwittingly embedded in artificial intelligence algorithms in healthcare. In particular, the institute, with its fabric of interdisciplinary collaborations, will shape solutions for biomedical and health data science and technology, while prioritizing health equity for Chicago’s diverse population and beyond. The institute researchers will investigate data and social determinants of health, will complete analytical reviews of research methodology and existing algorithms  to uncover bias in past research, will advise and counsel regulatory boards, and will create novel technology and Chicagoland datasets to reduce bias in healthcare.

The institute is co-directed by two internationally-renowned professors, each with expertise in data science and health-related applications:   Prof. Andrew Boyd and Prof. Elisabeta (Liz) Marai. The institute further  unites researchers from seven colleges in a new effort to ensure that medical applications of new technologies benefit all populations without bias.

“Data science is critical for the future of healthcare,” says Andrew Boyd, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical and Health Information Sciences and Associate Vice Chancellor for Research in Computing and Data Initiatives. “However, if we do not add the appropriate health equity and disparity lenses, the inequities and biases of today’s healthcare system will be baked into those algorithms for decades.”

Elisabeta (Liz) Marai, professor in the Department of Computer Science and a University of Illinois Scholar, reflects on the unique strengths of the initiative: “UIC is an incredible nexus of talented researchers, with world-class expertise in both data science and healthcare. These researchers can take the equitable health mission to national and international leadership”.

Faculty cross-campus, from the Colleges of Applied Health Sciences, Business Administration, Engineering, Liberal Arts & Sciences, Medicine, Pharmacy and the School of Public Health serve as associate directors and executive board members of the institute. The institute will spearhead a series of initiatives, including an annual week-long bootcamp to jumpstart collaborations among researchers on campus, a yearly industry summit, seed funding to help produce proof-of-concept results, and external grant application support. The opportunities for funding and workshops will be open to all UIC researchers.