College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Applying data analytics to study the HIV/AIDs Virus

Researchers at Iowa State University are combining their industrial engineering and data analytics knowledge with the medical expertise of researchers at the University of Iowa for a project that could understand the progression of HIV and eventually improve treatment of the virus.


Hillel Haim, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa, is leading the effort, while Guiping Hu, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering (IMSE) at Iowa State University, is a co-PI. The researchers are studying the most effective treatment strategies to combat human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). As the virus mutates differently in individuals, it can affect the efficacy of certain medicines, so the researchers are examining multiple variables to determine the most effective treatment based on different conditions. Haim and his team conduct the medical research in the lab and collect patients’ data, then Hu and her team apply their knowledge of data analytics, using tools such as optimization and machine learning models.

“In the medical field there is more and more data available, in part, because of reduced costs for data generation and the availability of medical images,” said Hu. “We have been using data analytics and optimization techniques to define parameters, determine the most effective models, develop strategies to improve the accuracy, and other performance metrics.”

Hu initially connected with Haim a few years back. Iowa State’s IMSE department provided funding for a Ph.D. student to conduct some preliminary analysis, which was eventually used for this current project. Despite the sports rivalry between the two universities, Hu said the collaboration has been great.

“We complement each other in the research disciplines and expertise for this project,” said Hu. “The University of Iowa has a great medical program and are able to collect reliable research data through their labs and medical facilities. Then they rely on the strong machine learning and data analytics expertise we have here at Iowa State University to turn that data in useful knowledge and actionable results. By connecting people and leveraging our expertise, it’s a win-win situation.”

Though Hu’s research focuses on operations research and analytics, one of the department’s four research focus areas, this was her first major venture into the medical field. She plans to do more health and medical-related research in the future, including a potential collaboration with Mayo Clinic that she currently has in the works. Hu said that she likes the innovative and impactful nature of this research, and that the knowledge gained and algorithms developed for a healthcare or medical project can be adapted to other applications.

Work on this project started in 2019 and the researchers hope to have this initial phase wrapped up later this year. The Foundation for AIDS Research provided support for this project.