NIH funds CUNY SPH and West Point AI Center for Precision Nutrition and Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH) and the United States Military Academy at West Point an estimated $8.1 million over five years, pending available funds, to establish the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) and computational modeling center for precision nutrition and health. Precision nutrition is an emerging area aimed at better tailoring diets to different people’s characteristics and circumstances to achieve better health outcomes. This award is part of the Nutrition for Precision Health, powered by the All of Us Research Program (NPH) initiative, a $170 million NIH-wide effort and first independent study that will recruit a diverse pool of participants from All of Us to inform more personalized nutrition recommendations. The NPH and the center are part of the NIH’s Common Fund, a special program aimed at catalyzing multiple biomedical disciplines.

The center will develop state-of-the-art AI, machine learning (ML), Big Data methods, and other data science approaches to better understand and improve diet and nutrition. This will include new ways to better understand how individuals have different dietary needs and avoid potential biases and disparities that may result from various nutrition recommendations. The center will be co-led by two world-renowned AI and computational modeling experts, Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA, professor of health policy and management at CUNY SPH and executive director of PHICOR (Public Health Informatics, Computational, and Operations Research) and Diana M. Thomas, PhD, professor and research chair of mathematics at West Point.

“As the nation’s leading urban public university, CUNY is proud to help drive cutting-edge research, in partnership with West Point, that aims to bring more equity to nutrition and health approaches,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “The Nutrition for Precision Health initiative will leverage the expertise of CUNY SPH as well as the University’s great diversity, reach and dedication to social justice. With their renowned work in artificial intelligence and computational modeling, Drs. Lee and Thomas are the ideal scholars to lead this ambitious new center.”

“Our society is at a key inflection point,” says Lee. “We now have much more data and technology available to guide diet and nutrition in ways that have not been previously done. This could greatly improve the health of people around the world; however, if not done correctly, it could worsen health outcomes and deepen disparities in health.”

“This is the first time that leading experts in data science, statistics, and systems modeling will collaborate with the top nutrition clinical and nutrition research centers in the U.S.,” says Thomas. “The effort is unique and extremely timely as we can combine new AI approaches with unprecedented levels of computing power to develop algorithms for personalized nutrition guidance.”

The center will include multiple major projects, including one led by AI expert Samantha Kleinberg, PhD, associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology, and another led by social network expert Kayla de la Haye, PhD, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “AI and ML have helped advance many areas of health research, but we haven’t seen the benefits in nutrition because we’ve lacked the key ingredient: large scale, high quality, data on diverse populations,” says Kleinberg. “This award grants us the opportunity to finally go beyond correlations to learn not just what factors are related to health outcomes but how diet causes them and for whom.”

The center will develop data science approaches and technology to address the whole complex system of factors that affect nutrition and health, ranging from genetics to metabolism to behavior to a person’s social and physical environment. “Studies have shown that diet and nutrition can be affected by the people and things around you and your circumstances,” says de la Haye.

The connection between CUNY SPH and West Point is unique. For the first time, the public academic institutions will collectively utilize their technologies and resources in a way that improves health inequities and advances precision nutrition and health.

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