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Dr. Fei Wang Receives National Science Foundation Award For “Understanding the Transmission and Prevention of COVID-19 with Biomedical Knowledge Engineering”

Dr. Fei Wang

As COVID-19 continues to spread, keeping up to date with the latest scientific understandings of the virus will be crucial to limiting its damage. Fei Wang, PhD, associate professor of population health sciences, is creating a way to summarize important COVID-19 insights buried within the constantly evolving database of scientific literature. He has received an award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his work, “Understanding the Transmission and Prevention of COVID-19 with Biomedical Knowledge Engineering.”

Dr. Wang’s goal is to build a COVID-19-specific knowledge graph to facilitate the acquisition of COVID-19-related knowledge. It will integrate existing information about the virus with new understandings from the latest biomedical literature, updated continuously to ensure ongoing enhancements. Further, the knowledge graph will be made publicly available as a web service with a user-friendly interface, including data visualization, that supports information retrieval and question answering. Once complete, all associated data and source codes for creating the knowledge graph will also be made available to the public.

The content of Dr. Wang’s project can be utilized in many scenarios, such as question answering, policy making, clinical decision support, and more. While this specific knowledge graph will be focused on COVID-19, Dr. Wang notes that the developed pipeline and techniques used can be extended to other critical diseases in the future. 

“The developed techniques and infrastructure can be easily adapted to other diseases, infectious or not,” Dr. Wang said. “The key is that different diseases are associated with different knowledge sources, or the literature used to extract the knowledge. With this project, we will build a tool to dig gold (knowledge) from the gold mine (literature). We can use the same tool to dig gold from other gold mines, as well.”

This project is funded through the NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), which is committed to broadening the participation in computing. This fits well with Dr. Wang’s ongoing efforts to ensure his research is inclusive. In this particular instance, females and underrepresented researchers, undergraduate students and K-12 students will be actively engaged in the research effort. “Because of the nature of this project, I feel it is my responsibility to let students and researchers from all levels and with all backgrounds learn the knowledge of COVID-19 and understand the science behind it.”

The far-reaching effects of this pandemic emphasize the need to share current knowledge not only in our own communities, but around the world. “As a researcher, I feel we should disseminate the knowledge behind the disease to everyone, so they know what is right and what is wrong.”

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