Lawmakers Back DoE, VA Supercomputing Partnership to Improve Veteran Care

(Image: Mother Jones)

Lawmakers hailed a new partnership that will leverage the Department of Energy’s (DoE) high-performance computing and machine learning capabilities to help analyze the health records of more than 20 million veterans maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“This win-win enterprise could revolutionize quality of healthcare for veterans while simultaneously providing the Department of Energy with unique insight and information to support development of next-generation technologies,” said Barbara Comstock, R-Va., at a hearing of two House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittees May 22.

The goal of the partnership is to arm the VA with data it can use to potentially improve healthcare offered to veterans by developing new treatments and preventive strategies.

“The Titan Supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory can process a quadrillion calculations a second,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the full committee. “That’s a number followed by 15 zeros. This computer will be used to analyze comprehensive sets of health records of 24 million veterans to provide improved care. The partnership between the VA and the DoE could transform the delivery of healthcare to our Veterans as we use complex computer models to learn more about the causes and warning signs of various diseases.”

Smith said VA has identified three areas–suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and cardiovascular disease–where the partnership could have an immediate impact.

“Health records generated from decades of care provide a trove of information that may lead to more accurate and consistent diagnoses and treatment of certain conditions and diseases,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill.

Lipinski echoed the sentiments of Comstock and Smith, saying that investing in high performance computing “will help analyze this massive amount of data to make it useful for delivering better healthcare results, not only for veterans, but also for the general population.”

VA and DoE have held meetings with technology startups focused on precision medicine to understand the direction of the technology in the commercial sector. Dr. Dimitiri Kusnezov, chief scientist at the National Nuclear Security Administration at DoE, said partnerships with labs, academia, and the private sector in this area are important and necessary.

“A concerted effort will lead to the design and development of DoE’s next generation supercomputing that will merge big data, artificial intelligence, and high performance computing,” said Kusnezov, noting that advances in supercomputing “could inform when and how to treat veterans, which would improve outcomes and control cost.”

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