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The CHOC Research Institute, in partnership with UC Irvine’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), will launch a new data science pediatric capstone project that will explore innovative, data-driven approaches to improve pediatric health and train the next generation of leaders in the field of healthcare data sciences.

The capstone project, a culminating assignment which students usually work on during their final year in school or at the end of an academic program, is the first of its kind in Orange County, which already serves as a worldwide hub for the medical device, translational research, and biotech industries.

The new pediatric data science capstone will be run by both UCI Master of Data Science (MDS) faculty and CHOC researchers. Mentors from both institutions will provide guidance in developing and implementing pediatric research projects.

Candidates from industry and academic data science are being sought to apply for the Master of Data Science graduate program. The first cohort for the capstone project at UCI will start in September 2021, at which time UCI also will begin recruiting for the 2022 cohort.

CHOC capstones do not start until September 2022, but UCI will include the CHOC options in their location and national recruitment efforts. CHOC associates can enroll in these programs at a special rate.

Prior to degree completion, all MDS students will complete a hands-on capstone course to strengthen their data science skills.

Successful applicants to the CHOC capstone will each propose a research project that maximizes pediatric data-driven discovery and innovation in a safe, respectful, and ethically sound way, using the available datasets at CHOC and resources available from UCI. This includes technical, clinical, and translational expertise offered by both organizing partners.

“This new capstone program will bring some of the brightest data scientists to UCI and CHOC to help optimize available data sets and improve the practice of medicine itself,” said CHOC Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Terence Sanger. “MDS students will have the opportunity to work with CHOC Research faculty on some of the most pressing issues in pediatric healthcare.”

Applicants will be chosen based on their data science expertise and their ability to carry out ambitious and collaborative pediatric data-intensive research. Candidates will be encouraged to expand the healthcare field with new and cutting-edge research.

“Our high-priority areas at CHOC include genomics, precision medicine, and rare diseases,” said Dr. Sanger, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the UCI School of Engineering, and vice dean of research, pediatrics at UCI.

“Also rare here is data science research involving clinical notes, state-of-the-art sequence models (RNN, GRU, LSTM, Attention networks, etc.) and natural language processing (NLP) approaches to statistical inference to address clinical outcomes,” he added.

Imaging, including studying X-rays and MRIs, also is an area in need of data scientists’ expertise, Dr. Sanger said.

“How can clinicians and data scientists together improve time to diagnosis?” he asked. “Our joint capstone program in data science is a ‘dynamic duo’ that will build the foundational skills to better position students to serve as future healthcare leaders.”

Professor Dan Gillen, chair of the department of statistics at UCI, said what makes the capstone unique is that it is going to be taught and delivered by world-renowned clinicians and data experts in the two foundations of data science: statistics and computer science.

Professor Tony Givargis, chair of the department of computer science at UCI, said the program is another example of interdisciplinary research and educational activities that promise to have a broad impact in pediatric health and beyond.

“And for our students,” Givargis added, “this is an excellent opportunity to engage with CHOC and ICS researchers and to prepare for careers as data scientists.”