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October 2023

Biomedical Data Science Innovation Lab: Data Science and the Public Health Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic

​Biomedicine depends upon the close interactions of experts having complementary backgrounds in education, technical skill sets, and motivations. Many interdisciplinary projects require rich intellectual networks and a trusting community to sustain collaboration over time.  Digital communications technology has made it possible to form some research collaborations over great distances.  Investigators developing new research projects, often interact via email, telephone, and video conferences in develop their project specific aims and research plans. Such abilities to exchange information via the internet are critical to the rapid development of research projects in an era where science is fast moving and research progress is time sensitive. However, the elements of direct human interaction are muted by such technology, with a resultant loss of certain creative ability to address biomedical research challenges in novel ways. Large scale conferences offer a means for face-to-face interactions but, given a densely packed meeting schedule involving numerous activities, investigators may not enjoy the dedicated time needed to allow new perspectives on collaborative research challenges to germinate. As such, despite the expertise marshalled for any particular project, inevitable academic time pressures work against dedicating time specifically to the intellectually creative process of novel idea generation. The Biomedical Data Science Innovation Lab (BDSIL) provides one approach to foster team science and innovative research to address complex clinical issues such as COVID-19. The BDSIL developed and hosted online data science skills training webinars and workshops as well as a one week in-person intensive summer workshop focused on team building and research grant proposal development. Led by Dr. Jack Van Horn, the BDSIL is a collaborative effort supported by iTHRIV, the UVA Brain Institute, the UVA School of Data Science, and the UVA School of Arts & Sciences.


Figure 1:   A word cloud of what the accepted Biomedical Data Science Innovation Lab 2022-2023 participants had hoped to gain or learn during our activities this year.

The goal of the 2023 BDSIL was to foster the formation of new interdisciplinary collaborations to generate creative strategies on the use of data science approaches for predicting secondary health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The BDSIL brought together quantitative and biomedical researchers, with expertise from the mathematical, statistical, basic science, and clinical biomedical fields, to address topics in biomedical data science critical to modeling and predicting when, where, and in what form such secondary effects on public health will occur. The BDSIL was designed as hybrid program of online team-building activities, a series of scientific and mentor presentations, and lectures by guest speakers, all culminating in a five-day in-person intensive event in June 2023 at The Lodge in Kenmore, Washington. 


Thirty-five early-mid career faculty were selected to participate in the 2023 BDSIL from across the country, including 6 from iTHRIV partner institutions. The BDSIL Mentor team was comprised of more senior investigators with complimentary skill sets who were able to pass on wisdom and insight to the next generation of investigators. Mentors met with the teams as they were forming to provide feedback, guidance, and direction. 2023 Mentors included Katherine Kim (UC Davis), Madhav Marathe (UVA), Julie Roper (Panorama Group), Vinay Pai (FDA), and Vivien Bonazzi (Deloitte).  Additionally, the BDSIL includes Provocateurs - domain experts who give short but disruptive talks, seeking to expand the bounds of the thinking of participants to help them envision new directions they haven’t considered. Provocateurs for 2022-2023 BDSIL were Alex Bui (UCLA), William Petri (UVA), Micaela Parker (Academic Data Science Alliance), and Shawn O’Neil (University of Colorado).


To provide the necessary background on ethical challenges of AI and the data science which accompanies it, we conducted the Foundations of Biomedical Data Science Seminar Series.  This virtual lecture series covered the basics of data management, representation, computation, statistical inference, data modeling, & other topics relevant to “big data” biomedicine. The seminar series provided essential topic introductions suitable for individuals at all levels of the biomedical and computational sciences community. All video presentations were streamed for live viewing, recorded, & are now posted online for future viewing & reference.


The one-week interactive workshop provided an opportunity for the development of multidisciplinary projects which link data science and a major challenge area in COVID-19. Eight projects formed and 6 of these are continuing to build on their activities from the workshop to develop their projects into NIH or NSF proposals. Additional activities from the in-person workshop included the creation of a position paper on the public health consequences of COVID-19 and data science for submission to a peer-reviewed periodical.


Preparations are already underway for the 2024 Biomedical Data Science Innovation Lab which will focus on Building Partnerships for Generative Artificial Intelligence Training in Biomedical and Clinical Research. iTHRIV is proud to continue our support of this innovative team science learning opportunity! Applications will be accepted starting soon: Biomedical Data Science Innovation Lab and Seminar Series (

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