The Accelerating Excellence In Translational Science (AXIS)Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science

Dr. Omolola Ogunyemi

Scientists search for stories in data and patterns in numbers. Dr. Omolola Ogunyemi is one of those scientists fascinated by the big picture. Trained in computer science, she finds the hidden connections that can solve problems in health care and biomedical research.

Dr. Ogunyemi started graduate school with the intention of entering the world of 3D computer graphics and animation. She joined a computer science research group during her first year and met a trauma surgeon, one of the faculty members leading the group.

“After working with the trauma surgeon that research team, a whole new world that I didn’t even know existed opened up,” Dr. Ogunyemi remembered, “The idea of coming up with computing solutions that might help patients and health care providers immediately seemed more appealing to me than my original plans.”

Dr. Ogunyemi learned that computers could help make diagnostic decisions for treating patients with penetrating trauma. “It also became apparent to me that a disproportionate number of the people affected by penetrating trauma at the hospital from which we had data were young and often from minority groups,” she said. Her work with the research group changed her life.

Now she is an associate professor and Director for the Center for Biomedical Informatics at Charles Drew University. Her research focuses on computerized medical decision support, 3D graphics and visualization, reasoning under uncertainty, and machine learning.

Dr. Ogunyemi developed TraumaSCAN-Web, a computerized decision support tool that utilizes 3D models of anatomy and probabilistic reasoning methods based on Bayesian networks to reason about the injuries resulting from gunshot and stab trauma to the chest and abdomen.

“There is definitely a need for biomedical informatics solutions that address the needs of under-served communities in practical ways that improve patients’ lives,” Dr. Ogunyemi said.

A recent project Dr. Ogunyemi has tackled is screening for diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can cause blindness if left undetected and untreated.

Diabetes affects an estimated 25.8 million people in the US or 8.3% of the population; including a disproportionate number of minorities. Diabetes patients suffer from hypertension, which causes problems with the small blood vessels in the eye. These blood vessels swell and leak, and the body may try to compensate with the abnormal growth of additional blood vessels that can obscure the retina. A yearly retinal screening is recommended for patients with diabetes.

Safety net clinics in the United States offer primary health care services whether or not those patients have the ability to pay for health care services. Unfortunately, these safety net clinics see such a large number of medically under-served patients that many do not receive the retinal screening they should. In Los Angeles, patients might wait four to eight months for routine eye screening. Dr. Ogunyemi’s project aims to change that. She developed a protocol that allows the clinic to take a picture of patients’ retinas and send the data digitally to an expert who screens for problems.

In the first nine months of the ongoing study, the project screened more than 20% of the diabetic patients seen at six safety net clinics. They expect that by the 12-month mark, the annual screening rate achieved will exceed the national average of less than 25% for innercity safety net clinics.

“I’ve been to each of the clinics where teleretinal screening takes place,” Dr. Ogunyemi said. “Given the shortage of specialists available to work directly with medically under-served communities in Los Angeles, the clinics are delighted to have teleretinal screening as an option for screening.”

As Director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics, Dr. Ogunyemi works with a multidisciplinary biomedical informatics team to address many different challenges in the biomedical sciences.

“I see CDU’s biomedical informatics team as having informatics expertise that is needed but often does not exist at the clinics,” Dr. Ogunyemi said. “while the clinics have real-world expertise on addressing the clinical problems facing under-served communities that we can also learn from. Partnering with the clinics is a win-win: we get to work with and learn from safety net clinics that have not had as much research attention paid to them, and they get informatics tools and methods that help to improve the quality of care that their patients receive.”