The biggest benefit of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Informatics' (IGPI) interdisciplinary framework is that students whose interests don’t fit well with an existing program find the flexibility to customize a unique curriculum. In doing so, they’re free to pursue personal interests, passions and goals from a number of departments where they can learn from nationally-recognized faculty who will support their objectives. Among examples of how this structure accelerated the process of research discovery, innovation and commercialization, is the case of Eric Pahl (Health Informatics PhD Scholar who co-founded OmniLife).
Eric Pahl (Health Informatics PhD)
As an undergrad, Eric Pahl had an epiphany inspired by personal experience and realized he’d need guidance from a number of disciplines to bring his ideas to fruition as he pursued an advanced degree. With IGPI, he was able to cherry-pick an interdisciplinary team of expert advisers from Iowa’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department, Tippie College of Business/Management Sciences; and UI Hospitals and Clinics. This proved to be Pahl’s recipe for rapid success.
While completing his PhD, Pahl’s innovation was already saving lives. His company now employs 20 student interns and 10 full-time professional software engineers in Johnson County; they raised more than $3 million from state, federal (National Institutes of Health), and private investments, and they’ve only just begun! Another $2 million NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR Phase II) award was recently approved for funding which will make a total of $5 million raised to date. The NIH-SBIR Phase II award will support the development of, “AI-enabled, real-time communication software for optimizing clinical decision making during the allocation, procurement and transplantation of donated organs.”
When asked how he did it, he credited a number of things that wouldn’t have been possible without the university’s investment in high-end computational and data resources, UI3 expertise and IGPI’s interdisciplinary nature. From a February 2019 interview with Pahl:
As an IGPI scholar, Pahl and his team have access to the high-performance computing resource, Argon, and exploit the acceleration possible with its graphics processing units (GPUs). “We utilized the nationally-acclaimed experts affiliated with UI3,” he said, and added, “the space on the fifth floor of the College of Public Health Building (CPHB) with dedicated workstations, fast network, lab space, meeting/collaboration rooms, and kitchenette offered our distributed team a convenient place to meet any time of day or night,” he said.
“Argon GPUs are used to run experiments that identify which variables are more predictive of organ transplant success or failure at various post-op time intervals,” said Pahl. “We were able to halve the time from initial organ offer to transplant. Over the past three years, median offer to transplant times were 16, 19 and 21 hours, respectively.” But during their intervention year, they observed a median time of 10 hours. “Fewer hours on ice are critical to organ transplant success; this time-savings was a significant improvement that wouldn’t be possible without AI,” he added.