Dr. Atul Butte, pediatrician and computer science leader, has been named the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg Distinguished Professor at UC San Francisco, where he takes the reins at the Institute for Computational Health Sciences.
The $10 million gift from the Silicon Valley philanthropists Chan and Zuckerberg will launch the institute and support Butte’s work.
Butte also serves as the executive director for clinical informatics across the six University of California Medical Schools and Medical Centers.
First up on his to-do list, Butte, a pediatrician and computer scientist, intends to bring more statistical power to his work. He is overseeing a project to integrate EHRs from all five medical centers in the UC system, which collectively hold the records from 15 million or more patients.
“This is among the richest and most diverse medical datasets in the world – much more than just a set of billing codes,” Butte said in a statement. “And, because the data come from our patients, the data are an incredible resource for UC hospitals to improve the quality of care we deliver throughout California.”
At medical centers like UCSF, EHRs are increasingly being looked to for insights on how to improve the quality of care and to better understand disease, Butte noted. For example, UCSF physicians used the medical record system to institute a virtual glucose monitoring system. Over three years, the system helped to reduce the proportion of patients who were hyperglycemic by nearly 40 percent.
Butte is also advancing an method to research that he calls “data recycling.” In lieu of the traditional approach, which involves recruiting new groups of patients and collecting data from scratch, he argues that probing already existing, publicly available data can yield a wealth of insights.
As he sees it, the “trillion points of data” already in the public sphere could help in repurposing FDA-approved drugs for new diseases, finding better ways to deliver healthcare and more.
Butte is also principal investigator for the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine and ImmPort, a clinical and molecular data repository created by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The gift from Chan, an alumna of the UCSF School of Medicine, and Zuckerberg is funding faculty recruitment and an array of computational work, including the development of UCSF’s Spoke knowledge network, a kind of ‘brain’ for precision medicine that gives researchers access to data from many disparate sources, including laboratory experiments, clinical trials, EHRs and patients’ own digital devices.