WVU researchers awarded $1 million to develop AI technologies to combat opioid epidemic, trafficking

WVU's Fanny Ye
WVU's Fanny Ye has been awarded a grant that will support her research to develop AI techniques to combat the opioid epidemic.

Yanfang (Fanny) Ye, assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering at West Virginia University, has been awarded a grant from the National Institute of Justice in support of her work to develop novel artificial intelligence techniques to combat the opioid epidemic and trafficking. The award comes with about $1 million in funding over a three-year period.

Opioid addiction has become one of the largest and deadliest epidemics in the United States. Opioid trafficking has co-evolved along with the advance of modern technologies. Finding ways to address the growing online participation in opioid trafficking is an urgent task.

“As of today, we still lack deep insight into the online ecosystem of opioid trafficking,” said Ye. “In addition to offline data, utilizing AI 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, in collaboration with Xin Li, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, will design and develop new AI technologies to automate the analysis of large-scale surface net and darknet data to provide timely investigative leads to law enforcement agencies in the United States 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 research and development experience in Internet security solutions. Before joining WVU, she was the principal scientist in Comodo Security Solutions, Inc., a provider of computer software and SSL digital certificates, and deputy director at Kingsoft Internet Security Corporation, the second biggest Internet security company in China. Ye proposed and developed cloud-based solutions for mining big data in the area of Internet security, especially for malware detection and adversarial machine learning. Her developed algorithms and systems have been incorporated into popular commercial products, including Comodo Internet Security and Kingsoft Antivirus that protect millions of users worldwide.

She also recently received the prestigious AICS 2019 Challenge Problem Winner, the ACM SIGKDD 2017 Best Paper and Best Student Paper awards (Applied Data Science Track), the IEEE EISIC 2017 Best Paper Award and the 2017 New Researcher of the Year Award from the Statler College. Ye has brought in nearly $2.5 million in research funding to WVU in the past two years.

This research is another facet of WV Forward and WVU’s multi-pronged approach to help those struggling with opioid abuse, and to address the economic, education and cultural challenges of the crisis. These cross-disciplinary efforts are designed to develop and sustain approaches to clinical care, education, training, research, outreach and data collection. WV Forward is a statewide collaboration led by West Virginia University, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education and improving health and wellness to create the most prosperous West Virginia possible.