A global collaboration to apply data science and artificial-intelligence methods to solve intractable problems in public health was launched today simultaneously in Sydney and Hong Kong. The Sydney hub was established thanks to $HK17 million ($3 million) in funding by InnoHK, a major initiative of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government.
The hub is part of the Laboratory of Data Discovery for Health, a joint project led by the University of Hong Kong in collaboration with the University of Sydney, University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The Sydney hub launched today is led by Professor Jean Yang in the School of Mathematics and Statistics with the Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Stephen Simpson, and Professor Eddie Holmes. Professor Holmes was last week awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for his work on emerging viral pathogens, including SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.
The local Sydney hub is part of a global effort to build the Laboratory of Data Discovery for Health (D24H) under the AIR@InnoHK Cluster to collate and curate massive, unique data resources and develop novel, deep, frontier analytics in protecting global public health and improving individual health care through precision medicine.
Professor Kathy Belov, University of Sydney Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement, said: “It is wonderful to see this project become a reality. Three years ago, Professor John Kao, the former Global Vice-President at the University of Hong Kong, came to Australia for our first Sydney Summit, where we raised the possibility of a Sydney hub for InnoHK.
“Given everything that has happened in the world since the onset of COVID-19, what a prescient, far-sighted idea that was.”
Professor Yang will focus on research using biomedical data and the emerging speciality of omic-based bioinformatics, in which she is a world leader.
Omics-science, is the collective study of biological markers, including genomics, proteomics and metabolomics, that are used to characterise molecules to assist in understanding the structure, function and dynamics of an organism.
She will lead a team of interdisciplinary scientists in collaboration with Associate Professor Joshua Ho at the University of Hong Kong to create tools to process biomedical data and novel computational approaches to solve major challenges in risk prediction for infectious diseases.
Professor Yang said: “To realise the potential of multi-omics data, this project will bring together global expertise to develop innovative data science approaches to identify robust biomarkers for global health risk prediction.”
Professor Yang will work closely with Professor Simpson to translate discoveries emerging from omics-science into improved health outcomes.
Professor Simpson said: “Nutrition, physical activity and sleep are powerful drivers of physiological systems, with profound impacts on health and wellbeing. Understanding system-wide omics responses to diet, exercise and sleep is a priority at the Charles Perkins Centre and offers huge potential both to improve health in human populations and with precision in individuals.”
Professor Holmes will work on two projects, collaborating with Associate Professor Tommy Lam at the University of Hong Kong, to develop techniques in meta-genomics, a process that simultaneously sequences the genetic material of all organisms in a biological sample.
The project will help identify microbes in animals and humans that could lead to disease outbreaks and develop software that can quickly analyse that data.
“Meta-genomics is hugely powerful, but it produces a huge amount of data. This project will allow us to develop novel approached to sort through the data to produce meaningful information quickly and accurately to identify newly emerging pathogens,” Professor Holmes said.
The University of Sydney hub researchers are: