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Snapshots in Public Health: ARPA-H Data Fabric, Computing for Research, NextGen911

Federal leaders highlight developments and infrastructure advancements impacting health innovation.

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Snapshots Public Health
Officials from the Defense Department, NIH and ARPA-H speak to projects and future opportunities to advance public health missions. Photo Credit: Capitol Events Photography

Federal leaders from the Defense Department, ARPA-H and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlighted how their agency and project missions are impacting public health and broke down some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in future partnerships with industry.

ARPA-H Deputy Director Susan Monarez, NIH Center for IT CIO Xavier Soosai, NIAID CIO Mike Tartakovsky and DOD Global Public Safety Communications Ecosystem Modernization Director John Holloway spoke at the Sept. 21 Health IT Summit in Bethesda, Maryland, during a time when public health modernization initiatives are grappling with artificial intelligence capabilities, data standardization, cybersecurity challenges and more.

Each official provided an overview of how they view the health IT landscape for government and how their offices are tackling some of these issues.

ARPA-H’s Bold Ethos for Innovation

As government’s newest agency created in March 2022 and nestled as an independent agency under NIH, ARPA-H is charting a path to developing high-impact solutions to address society’s most challenging health issues. Monarez describes this mission as doing “high risk, high reward health innovation across the health ecosystem.”

“We’re not bounded by any particular domain,” Monarez said at the event. “It could be anything from a disease state to data interoperability to decision-making to pay reimbursement. The answer is yes, all of that is on the table for ARPA-H and all of it is something that we are contemplating within our mission with our programs within our activities.”

Earlier this year, the agency released a broad agency announcement (BAA) seeking solutions in four areas impacting public health. Monarez called out another draft BAA released last week calling for proposals that enhance value taken from biomedical research data — what the agency is calling a biomedical data fabric toolbox.

“What we’d like to do with that project is take as much information, as much data, as much knowledge as absolutely possible from all crosswalks, … integrate it in an appropriate way, in a disciplined way, and make it available to the research community,” she said.

Advanced Computing for Biomedical Research

When it comes to enabling the numerous missions across NIH’s 27 institutes and centers (ICs) like NIAID, there is an infrastructure of critical capabilities managed by NIH CIT.

“Each IC has its own mission. … My customers are the boss,” Soosai said at the event. Soosai noted how his office focuses on eight services, including providing tools that enable collaboration and the network services for each of the centers.

Soosai noted the center’s infrastructure support for the high-performance computing lab Biowulf, which supports more than 8,000 scientists with access to computational applications for genomics, mathematical and graphical analysis tools and more.

The centers see computing power like this as not just a capability, but more as “research instruments.”

“Technology is an absolutely critical factor in enabling and advancing the science,” Tartakovsky said at the event. “Look at this from the perspective that the science has became a computation enterprise. Therefore, when you’re looking at the computational capabilities that you’re providing to research organizations, you need to look at them as a research instrument. Believe it or not, computation is a research instrument today.”

Tartakovsky noted its bioinformatics and computational biology group is working directly with scientists to develop tools like tuberculosis portals and comprehensive data sets.

Future 9-1-1 Infrastructure

A nationwide initiative to modernize public communications networks for emergency services is using modernized infrastructure to accommodate the fast-changing technological landscape and better provide support for emergency services .

Holloway highlighted the NextGen911 effort — an ambitious plan that aims to upgrade emergency call centers and unlock abilities to handle and process modern communication and data sources that have evolved beyond mere telephone calls to technology like videos and chat.

“If we can shave one minute off a responders’ time to get to you, … studies have shown that we can save close to 10,000 lives a year,” he said.

The technological evolution that is accommodating all sources of information necessitates addressing staffing challenges. Giving call center operators the ability to handle and process visual graphic videos or photos from emergency scenes can result in impacts to mental health and opens up an entirely different training requirement for managing these crises.

Graphic images or videos will “start affecting the mindset of these individuals,” Holloway said. “You have to be trained to calm someone down.”

The effort also faces funding and spectrum-sharing challenges.

Catch more details and insights in the full panel replay.


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