3 Takeaways from Life Sciences Week

Pittsburgh Life Sciences Week brought together researchers, healthcare executives, investors, Alliance team members, and many other life sciences professionals from Pittsburgh and across the country to discuss the theme: Investing in a Smarter Life.

The week-long life sciences event, organized by InnovatePGH, filled rooms across Pittsburgh campuses with speakers and audience members discussing everything from life sciences hurdles, to successes, to what the future holds. Below are three key takeaways from the week.


AI isn’t going anywhere in healthcare

It’s difficult to find a healthcare article or conference today that doesn’t mention artificial intelligence, machine learning, or natural language processing. The panel “Driving Biomedical Research with AI and Robotics” explored the explosion in healthcare data and the parallel rise in the use of algorithms and AI processes to assist in sorting, analyzing, and creating new models with that data. Speakers on the panel discussed the complexity of biological systems and the need for computers to model data, and for researchers and clinicians to trust and use the results of those models in order to continue advancing biomedical research.

Rob Hartman, PhD, Senior Manager at UPMC Enterprises, spoke on the panel and dove into the ongoing struggle of generating quality outputs. Dr. Hartman referenced several Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance funded projects and the steps that they’re taking to use AI to provide better overall outcomes for clinicians, and ultimately patients. He closed the discussion by referencing the culture gap that is going to need to be closed in order to activate all of these AI advances by saying, “There are plenty of science experts who could greatly benefit from the AI and machine learning tools that we’re creating here in Pittsburgh, but they either don’t know about them or don’t know how to use them. When we close this gap, we’ll truly see what AI can do for healthcare.”


We’re still scratching the surface of genomics

Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance researchers Carl Kingsford, PhD, and Jian Ma, PhD, spoke on the panel “Computational Needs for Big Data Genomics”. Throughout the presentation, the panelists spoke about the advances that have been made here in Pittsburgh, from the discoveries in the labs of the University of Pittsburgh to the models being tested on Carnegie Mellon University servers. But despite all of the advances, the speakers wanted to share with the audience the intricacy of genomics and the challenges that the field still must overcome.

Dr. Kingsford kicked things off with a comment that resonated with more than the geneticists in the room when he said, “data is getting larger quicker than computers are getting faster… this becomes a time and cost issue making new algorithms critical to achieving big data genomic goals.” Dr. Ma echoed these comments, saying “we have new personalized biotechnologies to deliver personalized care, but we have over 200 different cell types that each have different identities and functions… we need better models to understand these dynamic cells to deliver this better care.”

The conversation took a look into the future, with all panelists agreeing that new libraries with genomic achievements must be created – and that they must be easily searchable so that researchers can take steps forward instead of sideways. “Nobody understands all of it,” said Dr. Kingsford. “We need to encode genomics so that when people are searching for answers, they can find them.”


When looking to innovate, look for what’s missing

Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data Co-Director, Don Taylor, PhD, moderated the discussion “Pediatric Health Innovation”. Speakers included Gus Gear CEO, Sarah Palya, President and CEO of Actuated Medical, Maureen Mulvihill, MD, and University of Pittsburgh professor of Pediatrics, Rachel Berger, MD.

Dr. Taylor didn’t hesitate to get to the heart of the discussion topic by asking each speaker how they tackle innovation and how they decide where to focus. Dr. Berger shared that, in her research, she focuses her time on accurately diagnosing patients, especially those in high risk scenarios. “Abusive head trauma is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases, but it’s often misdiagnosed… for my research, I ask ‘Can we develop a panel of biomarkers that helps us better diagnose this?’”

Actuated Medical’s Dr. Mulvihill discussed that innovation doesn’t need to be driven solely by researchers and clinicians. “Just listening to end users and patients is a simple way to bridge the gap in pediatric innovation. Knowing their headaches and paint points is a great way to figure out where there are needs.” This sentiment of innovation not having one given birthplace, rang especially true with Sarah Palya, who created a company not as a researcher or a clinician, but as a mom with a need.

“Starting a business wasn’t my initial goal,” concluded Palya. “I just wanted to make our lives livable, so I created a solution. When I realized there were others out there that needed the same solution everything snowballed.”

Pittsburgh Life Sciences Week takes place each fall with events held across Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. For more information on the event, visit their website: https://www.lifesciencespittsburgh.com/