A trio of grants brings $13 million for aging research using AI

Dr. Bian at HOBI student reception, September 2023.
Jiang Bian, right, meets new students in the College of Medicine’s department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics (HOBI) at a reception in September 2023.

With three collaborative project grants from the National Institute on Aging on the line, a University of Florida researcher hit a grand slam that secured funding and launched all three projects on September 1, 2023. The combined value of the projects is $13.3 million.  

Jiang Bian, Ph.D., a UF professor in Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics (HOBI) within the College of Medicine, serves as a co-leader on all three projects. He will guide UF research teams as they collaborate with partnering universities to study different aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias using artificial intelligence.

“Our teams are really motivated to conduct this research together. Collaboration and team science are crucial when dealing with such high levels of complexity and multiple areas of expertise,” Bian said.

The three projects will tackle:

Learn more about each study below.

Gathering clues to Alzheimer’s disease from other diseases

Collaborating with the University of Texas on a $3.4 million project from the National Institute on Aging, UF researchers are applying artificial intelligence to understand how various illnesses affect Alzheimer’s disease. 

The effects of Alzheimer’s disease may be worse for patients with diabetes or other chronic conditions. But understanding these connections can be difficult because of a lack of centralized data.

This new, three-year study builds upon a previous project (ACTIVE MIND) conducted among nearly 1,000 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Because these patients’ medical records are scattered across locations and in a wide variety of formats, the research team will leverage machine learning and open-source software to extract and analyze data. In the end, the new insights may guide health care providers as they assess a patient’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is coordinated by Xiaoqian Jiang, Ph.D., from UTHealth Houston. Dr. Bian is joined on the study by fellow HOBI researcher Yonghui Wu, Ph.D., and by two researchers from the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, Samuel Wu, Ph.D., and Adam Woods, Ph.D. An additional leader and four co-investigators are based at the University of Texas.

Major resources for this study based at UF are the NVIDIA supercomputer HiPerGator and extensive medical data from the OneFlorida+ Clinical Research Network.

How COVID-19 affects people with dementia   

A collaborative effort from the University of Florida, Harvard University and Cornell University has secured $4.2 million from the National Institute on Aging to research connections between COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease.

The familiar COVID-19 symptom of “brain fog” has received significant attention, but less research has focused on people who had dementia or cognitive problems prior to becoming sick with COVID-19. Researchers at UF are part of a three-year team effort to apply machine learning to understand how COVID-19 has affected people with cognitive disorders, including those who may have Alzheimer’s disease.

While we know that COVID-19 can have long-term effects on the brain, there is less clarity about how it affects the progress of cognitive disorders and which factors or behaviors deserve the most attention.

The team’s eight researchers will use UF supercomputers to extract precise information and gain new insights from millions upon millions of medical records.  

The research team has three co-leaders: Hui Hu, Ph.D., from Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Fei Wang, Ph.D., from Weill Medical College of Cornell University; and Jiang Bian, Ph.D., from HOBI at UF. Also leading the study as co-investigators are UF researchers Jie Xu, Ph.D., HOBI; Yonghui Wu, Ph.D., HOBI; and Michael Jaffee, M.D., chair of the UF Department of Neurology.

This team has a strong track record of peer-reviewed publications on COVID-19, cognitive impairment, epidemiology, and complex environmental factors that influence the progression of disease. The HOBI contingent has exceptional AI and data resources based at the university.

This project builds upon findings from the National Institutes of Health program of Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER).

Creating an app for simulating Alzheimer’s disease trials

With a $5.7 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, researchers from the University of Florida and the University of Texas are developing an advanced computing system that can simulate clinical trials of Alzheimer’s disease.

Working collaboratively between universities, the research team will create and test a new online application that will allow Alzheimer’s disease researchers to test their trials before conducting them. This simulation is intended to save considerable time and money while improving the accuracy of future trials.

The five-year project will use UF’s supercomputers to analyze data from more than 25 million real patients.

Coordinating this research is Cui Tao, Ph.D., from UTHealth. Dr. Bian is joined by fellow UF researchers Yonghui Wu, Ph.D., HOBI; Yi Guo, Ph.D., HOBI; and Michael Jaffee, M.D., chair of the UF Department of Neurology.

The three research projects are supported by the National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health; the researchers’ work does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.