MORGANTOWN — Computer science researchers at West Virginia University plan to tackle the state’s ongoing opioid epidemic through the use of technology and artificial intelligence.
Dr. Yanfang “Fanny” Ye, assistant professor at the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, recently received a grant from the National Institute of Justice of $1 million to be used over the course of three years. The funding will be used to support her work of developing new artificial intelligence techniques to combat the opioid epidemic and trafficking.
While the opioid epidemic has had nationwide affects, the Mountain State has been hit particularly hard, stretching available resources to the limit. Among the many fronts of this fight is the trafficking of opioids which has grown and evolved along with technology. Ye’s research aims to tackle the trafficking issue particularly those which occur online.
“As of today, we still lack deep insight into the online ecosystem of opioid trafficking,” Ye said. “In addition to offline data, utilizing AI (artificial intelligence) technologies to obtain knowledge and recognize patterns from online data across the darknet and surface net could provide valuable investigative leads, which might greatly facilitate law enforcement’s ability to prevent, respond to and disrupt opioid trafficking networks.”
As part of the grant, Ye is joining forces with Dr. Xin Li, another professor of computer science and electrical engineering with the WVU Statler College. Together, they will design and develop new artificial intelligence technologies to automate the analysis of large-scale surface net and dark net data. Such technologies could give law enforcement agencies across the United States an edge by providing timely investigative leads to combat opioid trafficking.
“I am pleased that Dr. Ye and Dr. Li were able to win this competitive research grant from the NIJ,” said Pradeep Fulay, associate dean for research in the Statler College. “Addressing urgent and significantly complex societal problems such as opioid addiction requires multiple angles and an interdisciplinary approach. Dr. Ye and Dr. Li will use sophisticated pattern recognition research that can have a significant impact on disrupting the supply chain underlying opioid trafficking.”
Ye has extensive experience in internet security, having worked for some of the largest companies in these arena in China. She proposed and developed cloud-based solutions for mining big data in the area of Internet security, especially for malware detection and adversarial machine learning. Ye has also developed algorithms and systems have been incorporated into popular commercial products such as Comodo Internet Security and Kingsoft Antivirus which protects millions of users worldwide.
Ye and Li’s research is one of several initiatives by the university to address the drug epidemic from medical, cultural, economic and technological angles. Among those angles is a potential breakthrough by the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute that treats pain by placing a tiny, pill-like micropellet made of a non-addictive, non-steroid medication in a patient’s lower back to combat chronic pain caused from sciatica. This could be a less addicting and safer alternative to opioid prescriptions.
This also comes as part of the West Virginia Forward initiative, a collaboration between the state Department of Commerce, WVU and Marshall University to grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education and improving health and wellness.