The new Woo Center at Duke aims to bring together engineers, machine learning experts, data scientists and health care specialists to improve clinical care around the globe.

Last week, the Pratt School of Engineering announced the launch of the Sherry and John Woo Center for Big Data and Precision Health. Funded by a $3 million grant from philanthropist John Woo, the center is designed to support projects that use artificial intelligence and data to provide better health care to developing communities worldwide.

“Big data, analytics and machine learning are changing our world significantly, and nowhere will the change be more significant and meaningful than in health care,” said Ravi Bellamkonda, Vinik dean of engineering at Duke, in a news release. “Duke Engineering and Duke Health are collaboratively leading this change, and the Woo Center will help catalyze this further by coordinating new partnerships, expanding access to diverse, well-curated datasets and fueling transformative research ideas in this space.” 

There’s a growing interest in studying the links between population data and health, said Xiling Shen, Hawkins Family associate professor, in the release. Faculty with projects that study those connections can receive grants up to $150,000 from the Woo Center. 

Additionally, the center supports engineering students studying health data science. It will offer international exchange programs, internship opportunities and funding for social entrepreneurship. 

The center aims to conduct research in countries with emerging healthcare networks in order to provide sufficient care for those lacking it. Projects are supposed to be collaborative—researchers will work with governments, hospitals, organizations and biotechnology companies to collect and take advantage of population data. 

Efforts will initially concentrate in China and focus on collect health data nationwide to more efficiently deliver clinical care to poor, rural regions.

“Duke is already at the forefront of bringing big data and precision medicine into clinical practice,” Shen said in the release. “We’re excited about the opportunities this new center will open for our faculty and students to build productive new collaborations with clinicians and biotech companies to make an impact for patients.”