VA launches National Artificial Intelligence Institute to drive research and development

VA has used AI and machine learning technologies to help reduce veterans’ wait times and identify those at high risk for suicide. (Ryzhi/Getty Images)

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wants to become a leader in artificial intelligence and launched a new national institute to spur research and development in the space.

The VA's new National Artificial Intelligence Institute (NAII) is incorporating input from veterans and its partners across federal agencies, industry, nonprofits, and academia to prioritize AI R&D to improve veterans' health and public health initiatives, the VA said in a press release.

“VA has a unique opportunity to be a leader in artificial intelligence,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “VA’s artificial intelligence institute will usher in new capabilities and opportunities that will improve health outcomes for our nation’s heroes.”

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For its AI projects, the VA plans to leverage its integrated health care system and the healthcare data it has amassed, thanks to its Million Veteran Program. That program has collected 800,000 veterans' data in a genomic database with the goal of researching how genes, lifestyle and military exposures affect health and illness.

The VA has tapped biomedical informatics leader Gil Alterovitz, Ph.D., to lead the NAII as the institute's director. Alterovitz is a faculty at Harvard Medical School in the Center for Biomedical Informatics. He is the director of the Biomedical Cybernetics Laboratory and core faculty member of the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program.

According to the VA, Alterovitz has led national and international collaborative initiatives for developing novel informatics methods and approaches for integrating clinical, pharmaceutical, and genomic information, from research to point-of-care. 

Alterovitz led the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT's "Sync for Genes" effort, an initiative to advance the use of standards to enable and improve patients’ ability to share their genomics information.

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VA has used AI and machine learning technologies to help reduce veterans’ wait times and identify those at high risk for suicide. The department's AI initiatives also have helped doctors interpret the results of cancer lab tests and choose effective therapies, according to the VA.

NAII is a joint initiative between VA’s Office of Research and Development and Secretary’s the Center for Strategic Partnerships. The program will design, execute and collaborate on large-scale initiatives and national strategy and build on the American AI Initiative and the National AI R&D Strategic Plan.