Mount Sinai, Hasso Plattner Institute launch new $15M digital health center

Mount Sinai Health System and the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany have teamed up to launch a new $15 million digital health center, based at Mount Sinai in New York City, with the aim of accelerating the use of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies in clinical care.

“This initiative is about how we take the promise of what everyone’s talking about, which is artificial intelligence and digital health, and accelerate its path to the patient and the clinic. For all the hype, there are very few examples of how we deliver that to the point of care,” said Joel Dudley, Ph.D., associate professor of genetics and genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and director of Mount Sinai’s Institute for Next Generation Healthcare, in an interview with FierceHealthcare.

The new organization, called the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Medicine at Mount Sinai, combines the two organizations’ resources in health care, data sciences, and biomedical and digital engineering. The institute will conduct patient-engaged and data-driven research with the aim of building and testing prototype digital health tools for consumers, patients, providers and health systems.

The organization is being funded through a $15 million gift from the Hasso Plattner Foundation with Dudley and Erwin Bottinger, M.D., professor of digital health-personalized medicine at the Potsdam, Germany-based Hasso Plattner Institute, serving as the institute’s co-directors.

Hasso Plattner Institute is a German information technology institute founded in 1998 by tech billionaire Hasso Plattner, the co-founder of software company SAP. Mount Sinai brings to the partnership its interdisciplinary experience with genomics, big data, supercomputing and bioinformatics as well as a large and diverse patient population and an ability to translate from the lab directly to the clinic.

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Researchers know that by using artificial intelligence they can analyze patient data from electronic health records, genetic information and mobile sensors to gain predictive insights into health outcomes. But translating that work into useful information for doctors and patients has been an ongoing challenge, digital health experts say.

“There are challenges to overcome—the current IT infrastructure within health systems is not able to support truly data-driven approaches to healthcare,” Dudley said. To address this, the institute’s leaders will develop a new data and IT platform to support digital medicine.

A key area of focus for the new research center will be studying and developing digital health tools for chronic diseases, such as kidney disease and diabetes, Dudley said, with the aim of better predicting when a patient’s condition might worsen to enable physicians to intervene earlier and prevent bad outcomes.

‘Digital medicine for everyone’

Mount Sinai has already laid the foundation for the new research center due to the health system’s investments in data, technology and biomedical research, such as the Institute for Next Generation Healthcare and its Lab 100, a hybrid clinic and research lab reinventing patient health checkups.

There’s also the health system’s BioMe biobank program, a cohort of 55,000 patients that have provided their genetic information for large research studies. The biobank is linked to electronic medical records to enable researchers to combine genetic, molecular, epidemiologic and genomic information with medical records for studies on large data sets.

“The limitation that we have now is that the EHRs only capture a sliver of someone’s total picture of health,” Dudley said. The institute plans to build on its data sets by incorporating data from different sources, including apps, wearables and mobile sensors.

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Having a biobank program already in place also enables the research center to directly engage patients in its digital medicine research. “We’re interested in digital health in terms of how do we put more of the power of data and insights into the hands of the patients themselves, so they can manage their health. To me, that is the ultimate goal of digital medicine—empowering patients. We happen to have a cohort already set up in such a way that we can begin to evaluate how technology can enable that,” he said.

“It’s really about digital medicine for everyone, and that’s different than many other digital medicine efforts,” Dudley added.

A major ethical issue often raised about artificial intelligence in healthcare and precision medicine is the need to collect and analyze health data from a diverse population. According to Dudley, Mount Sinai is in a unique position to drive digital health forward because of its biobank program and its location in upper Manhattan.

“Mount Sinai is located on the fault lines of the richest and poorest zip codes in New York City. From the perspective of genetic diversity, ethnic diversity and socioeconomic diversity, I don’t think anything else is comparable to the patient population that we have here, except maybe Columbia,” he said, adding, “I like to say that Mount Sinai’s patient population is as big as a Scandinavian country and as diverse as the United Nations.”

“This is where we’re really going to put things to the test: If we develop an AI model that’s predicting disease risk, can we actually show it’s working for all parts of the patient population? I think this is a unique opportunity that we have here,” he said.