NIH awards USMA, CUNY SPH grant to establish first AI, center for nutrition

By Sgt. 1st Class Luisito Brooks West Point PAO NCOIC Date: Thursday, Feb 10, 2022 Time: 18:58 EST
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As a math professor at the U.S. Military Academy, Dr. Diana Thomas begins her day every morning at 4 a.m. going through standard emails, but on this day, she would receive an email that would change her, and her teamʼs lives forever.

“When I saw that we had got the award, I wasnʼt just excited about the funding,ˮ Thomas said. “I was excited for all the people we would be able to help.ˮ

She added that she felt excited because now they could show the nation and the world the importance of nutrition on health.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded USMA and the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH) an $8 million grant to establish the worldʼs first artificial intelligence and computational modeling center for precision nutrition and health. 

The NIH is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. Itʼs comprised of 27 separate institutes and centers. NIH is the largest public funder of biomedical research globally, investing more than $32 billion a year to enhance life and reduce illness and disability.

Thomas, the research chair of Mathematics at West Point, highlighted the combined effort and support from CUNY SPHʼs Dr. Bruce Lee, the co-principal investigator for this critical initiative. 

“West Point is proud to be working closely with CUNY on this important work, bringing tremendous intellectual capital to the Nation,ˮ Thomas said. “I always tell our co-PI Dr. Bruce Y. Lee that he shares West Point values.ˮ

Together, their teams hope to build the NIH Artificial Intelligence, Modeling, Informatics for Nutrition Guidance and System Center. The center will focus on four main projects: the Data Distiller, the Causal Relationship Disentangler, the Virtual Human for Precision Nutrition, and the Virtual Public Health Precision Nutrition Laboratory.

These projects aim to implement computational and data science approaches and tools to advance nutrition for precision health to account for the complex systems involved.

“We want to make health and nutrition easy and accessible to everyone,ˮ said Lt. Col Raymond Blaine, director of the West Point Cyber Research Center, and a USMA Class of 2002 graduate. “We want to shape the way we look at dieting, nutrition and performance.ˮ

Blaine explained that good health had always been the number one concern for people, but in recent years, health challenges and staying healthy have been brought to the forefront of conversations worldwide.

“Over the past two years, we have seen the impact of negative health,ˮ Blaine said. “This is a breath of fresh air because with this award and the support of so many teams around the nation, we will be able to create a better model to solve overall health problems.ˮ

Thomas mentioned how thankful she was to showcase the hard work and efforts of so many dedicated people on her team. 
“I know West Point is so beautiful, and I know that my colleagues and the cadets are just spectacular,ˮ Thomas said. “But now the rest of the world can see what teamwork can achieve.ˮ

It began as a vision for these researchers to help all people using the technology, and with the aid of this award, it can soon be a reality.

“This NIH initiative will direct nutrition research for the next five years at the very least, probably for the next decade,ˮ Thomas said. “West Point is thrilled to have a seat at that table.ˮ