Imagine being able to identify, months in advance, one of the leading causes of hospital death and one of the most expensive healthcare illnesses to save lives and huge sums of money for healthcare providers.
This is exactly what Curren Katz and her team at Highmark Health in Pittsburgh, together with IBM’s data science elite team, did – predict members who are at risk for sepsis in the future. This condition occurs when the body turns itself on to fight infection and starts damaging its own tissues.
For this achievement, 38-year-old Katz, formerly Hubbard, was recognized by IBM, one of the world’s leading innovators in artificial intelligence, as one of the world’s top 40 women as part of the company’s prestigious Women Leaders in AI program.
The awards are given annually. This year, Pittsburgh-based Katz joins women from 18 countries who are revolutionizing the field of AI technology, an area largely male-dominated.
IBM launched the program in 2019 to encourage greater diversification in this area and provide award winners with a network for collaborative learning. According to Ritika Gunnar, vice president of IBM, Expert Labs, IBM Cloud and Cognitive Software, women are “paving the way into AI for businesses and influencing the way people work and live.”
Rewind a few decades until Katz was introduced to healthcare. Her father, William, was a surgeon and her mother, Susan, was a nurse who became a malpractice defense attorney.
She said she spent a lot of time in her father’s doctor’s office, doing rounds with her father as a young girl – often against orders to stay in a different room while working – to give her some insight into the treatment side of the profession and to grow her love for medicine.
She had always heard of her mother’s legal side, who was the first partner in her law firm.
It was Mother who paved the way for her daughter in the sense that the sky was the limit for Katz and gave her the confidence to achieve advanced degrees and leadership positions.
“I had a great example of this (female leadership) from my mother early on, which I think gives me the confidence not to really doubt that I could work in what is sometimes a male-dominated technology field, and be a leader in this field,” said Cat.
GROW / EDUCATION
Katz admits, albeit cheekily, that she needs a sat nav to bypass Hubbard. Her parents, both of whom are now retired, still live here, but in a place where she has spent really little time.
She attended the Hubbard Exempted Village School District in third grade, then the family moved to Virginia where she completed eighth grade. She attended high school at the prestigious little Oldfields School for Girls, another nurturing and supportive environment for women.
Then it went on to New York University, where Katz was interested in artificial intelligence.
As a student of early childhood education and special education while teaching children with multiple disabilities in a hospital, she became curious about the neuroscience behind what she saw.
In short, she wanted to learn how these children learned.
“I loved it, it was wonderful, (but) I kept thinking about what was going on with learning. How do they learn How are they thinking? What happens to these disabilities, could they be prevented, could they be treated? “Said Katz.
It led her to an advanced degree in brain sciences – a Masters from Harvard Graduate School and a PhD from Humboldt University in Berlin, whose alumni include 57 Nobel Prize winners, including Albert Einstein and the German theoretical physicist Max Planck.
At Harvard, she worked as a research coordinator at the Beth Israel Medical Center and then at Humboldt as a research coordinator.
At the end of her time at Humboldt in mid-2015, “This newly created area of data science received a lot of attention and neuroscience was a great backdrop.
“We had the coding skills, the math skills, and the understanding of things like neural networks. I’ve always loved making predictions, and in 2009 I made my first predictive diagnostic model for fun, ”said Katz. “I also published a paper on predicting the risk of suicide. When I was offered the opportunity to join Highmark as a data scientist, I was thrilled. It enabled me to contribute to health care and use AI from both a payer and a provider perspective. Although I was working as a data scientist in model construction, I quickly switched to management and built up a department. “
CAREER / AWARDS
Katz joined Highmark in August 2016 but recently moved to Janssen Research and Development, Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical company.
Their appeal to AI is in large part due to the limitless opportunities for change that the field offers.
“When I learned about the methods and techniques and the possibilities of AI and combined that with the potential for medicine, it was just clear – this is amazing, this is something I want to do,” said Katz.
As director of research and development for Highmark’s data science, Katz led an initiative that has the potential to save thousands per incident, up to $ 48,000, some published scientific literature suggests.
She and her team of around 20 people wanted to find out whether sepsis could be prevented or at least facilitated early identification and treatment before the patients were hospitalized. Previously, most AI applications focused on early detection in a hospital using near real-time physiological data. However, the stated goal of the work was to give clinicians and nurses three months to intervene.
“But no one had predicted sepsis that far in advance, and we weren’t even sure if it was predictable. Using various data elements, my team, along with the Data Science Elite team at IBM, was able to predict members who are at risk for future sepsis, ”said Katz.
Winning the award, she said, was shocking. Katz said her boss was thrilled, “but I was still trying to figure out what’s going on.
“As a manager, you do not do the work hands-on. I’ve always found opportunities for a range of talented people to get the job done and make a difference and then remove the barriers around them, ”said Katz.
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