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Digital Health + Life Sciences Informatics, Spring 2022

NCI Funds AI Training for Young Faculty

by Richard Westlund

January 29, 2022

Six post-doctoral fellows at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine will be trained in data science, thanks to a collaborative initiative with the UM Institute for Data Science and Computing (IDSC).

“We are looking forward to exploring ways to produce a generation of cancer equity scientists who are conversant with the language of data science”

Mitsunori Ogihara, Brain Investigators Collaborative Initiative“We are looking forward to exploring ways to produce a generation of cancer equity scientists who are conversant with the language of data science,” said Mitsu Ogihara, PhD, Professor of Computer Science and Director of IDSC Education and Workforce Development. “I hope that we can use the experience to develop a curriculum that can be shared with the research community that aims to develop similar training programs.

Frank J. PenedoOgihara is a Co-Principal Investigator of the “AI for Trainees” training grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) along with Frank J. Penedo, PhD, Sylvester Professor of Psychology & Medicine, and Associate Director, Cancer Survivorship & Translational Behavioral Sciences; and Erin Kobetz, P.D, MPH, Associate Director for Population Science and Cancer Disparity, director of Sylvester’s Cancer Control Program, the John K. and Judy H. Schulte Senior Endowed Chair, and Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship at the Miller School.

Two years ago, Sylvester was awarded a National Cancer Institute (NCI) training grant in cancer prevention and control, that focused on cancer equity across the cancer control continuum—that is, from studying basic biological mechanisms contributing to disparities in cancer incidence and outcomes to prevention and survivorship interventions and public programs that aim to reduce the unequal burden of cancer, said Penedo. “Recognizing the unprecedented advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the NCI awarded us a supplemental one-year grant last fall, and we are now implementing that training program,” said Penedo.

Erin KobetzThe IDSC data science training will include a cloud-based AI/ML course offered through the IBM Skills Academy, a programming course using R (tidyverse), and a year-long research program to address “big data” in cancer equity.

“It takes in-depth analytics and supercomputing resources to bring these data sets together”

“In recent years, there has been a significant increase of data available to cancer researchers and clinicians, including data from electronic health records (EHRs), wearable devices and social media, lifestyle (e.g., physical activity, nutrition, social interactions), and sociodemographic databases that capture social determinants of health such as income, neighborhood deprivation, and crime,” said Penedo. “But it takes in-depth analytics and supercomputing resources to bring these data sets together and look for patterns indicative of cancer risk that might otherwise be missed.”

Here are the six Sylvester Fellows who plan to use the data science training to advance their research. All are postdoctoral scholars in the Sylvester South Florida Cancer Control Training in Disparities and Equity (South Florida C-TIDE) program.

Roberto M. Benzo, PhD Roberto Benzo, Ph.D., is an early career health promotion scientist whose research interests involve advancing the understanding of health behaviors in the development of management of chronic health conditions among cancer survivors.


Jordan Baeker-Bispo, PhD, MPH Jordan A. Baeker Bispo, Ph.D., M.P.H., is interested in understanding the multilevel factors that undermine and promote equitable access to cancer screening, particularly among immigrant women.


Padideh H. Lovan, PhD, RD, LDN Padideh Lovan, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., focuses her research on nutrition in the community, including correlations between behaviors, nutrition and health outcomes.


Kilan Ashad-Bishop, PhD Kilan Ashad-Bishop, Ph.D., has research interests that include understanding the biological burden of systemic inequities on cancer disparities and developing meaningful interventions.


Estefany Saez-Clarke, PhD Estefany Sáez-Clarke, Ph.D., is studying how to reduce the research-to-practice gap to improve access to evidence-based psychological practices in medical settings for economically disadvantaged and underserved populations.


Sarah Worch, PhD, IMFT-S Sarah M. Worch, PhD, LMFT, focuses her research on the family relationship process and its association with chronic illness such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension in Black adults.


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