Nov. 7, 2023

Winship researcher leads Emory's new AI for health institute

Photo of Winship researcher leads Emory's new AI for health institute

The new Emory AI.Health, led by Winship member Anant Madabhushi, PhD, will foster the development of accessible, cost-effective and equitable AI tools including methods for improving cancer diagnostics and treatment.

Emory University is embarking on a new initiative that will unite the power of machine learning and big data to transform the ways in which health care systems prevent, diagnose, treat and cure diseases on a global scale, including how artificial intelligence (AI) will improve cancer detection, risk and treatment response prediction.

Launching this month under the umbrella of Emory’s AI.Humanity initiative, the Emory Empathetic AI for Health Institute will be led by Anant Madabhushi, PhD, Robert W. Woodruff professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory and Georgia Institute of Technology, member of the Cancer Immunology research program at Winship Cancer Institute, and a research career scientist with the Atlanta VA Medical Center. The new institute will utilize AI and computing power to discern patterns in vast amounts of data, making predictions that improve patient health outcomes in diseases such as lung, prostate and breast cancer, among others. While AI is already being deployed to improve diagnoses and treatment for numerous health conditions, the profound impact AI can have on health care, and especially upon cancer care, is only beginning.

The first institute of its kind in Georgia, Emory AI.Health will foster the development of accessible, cost-effective and equitable AI tools including methods for improving cancer diagnostics and treatment. Collaborating with multidisciplinary experts, the institute aims to leverage AI to save and improve lives, making cancer care more proactive and personalized.

Anant Madabhushi, PhD
Anant Madabhushi, PhD

The inspiration behind Madabhushi's work in the field of AI and cancer is deeply personal. In a recent TedTalk presentation entitled, “Could AI Find Your Cancer?”, he attributes his interest in this field to his aunt who lost her life to breast cancer. “I was working on my undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering, and my young aunt's death had a profound impact on me. I decided then that I had to do something with my training in biomedical engineering to alleviate the suffering that cancer causes in patients and their loved ones," he told the audience.

Emory AI.Health will play a pivotal role in reducing overdiagnosis and overtreatment of cancers and other diseases by harnessing AI to provide more precise data for risk stratification and prediction of treatment responsiveness. The institute's mission includes promoting health equity, with an initial focus on underserved populations in the Atlanta region, making AI-informed precision medicine accessible to all.

In his TedTalk presentation, Madabhushi also outlined how he and other researchers seek to utilize AI to address the pressing challenges in cancer detection and treatment. Cancer is highly prevalent, affecting one in two men and one in three women, he noted. Oncologists often grapple with the difficult task of determining which patients have more aggressive forms of cancer and would therefore benefit from aggressive treatments like chemotherapy, while other patients may safely avoid the toxic effects of such treatments. AI may be able to assist physicians in determining the best treatment route for each individual patient, Madabhushi explained in his presentation.

By assisting with more targeted treatments and preventing over-treating patients, AI could also have an impact on the financial burden of cancer. Madabhushi noted that more precision treatments are in development and growing in use, such as immunotherapy, which has increasingly shown promise in treating cancer. However, only 25% of patients respond to these treatments, and they can be prohibitively expensive, leading to significant financial toxicity for many patients, with almost 42% of patients newly diagnosed with cancer losing their life savings. AI could help provide only the most effective treatment for the patients who are most likely to respond, thus saving many people from unnecessary financial strain.

Some of Madabhushi's research involves applying AI to detect cancer and/or predict outcomes using medical imaging, particularly in breast cancer. Additionally, AI can help determine which patients will most likely respond favorably to expensive treatments. AI technology can help to identify which women with breast cancer require chemotherapy and which can safely avoid it, thus minimizing the toxic side effects.

AI tools are cost-effective and non-destructive and can provide results almost instantaneously, making them accessible in various regions with slide scanning technology. Madabhushi has also investigated how AI can assist in treating lung cancer, predicting which patients will respond to immunotherapy by analyzing vessels depicted in CT scans.

The overarching goal is to reduce overdiagnosis and overtreatment through better risk stratification and prediction of treatment responsiveness. While much of the available AI research data is retrospective, AI is being used in clinical trials and is showing promise in predicting treatment responsiveness.

“AI will transform society and at Emory, we want to use these powerful technologies to save and improve lives,” said Emory President Gregory L. Fenves. “We see the power AI has to facilitate healing while improving equitable access to health care. Dr. Madabhushi is a trailblazer in health-focused AI and the ideal person to lead the Empathetic AI for Health Institute.”

Emory AI.Health will benefit from the expertise of Emory researchers such as Gari Clifford, DPhil, and Judi Gichoya, MD, MS, a Cancer Prevention and Control researcher at Winship, who are advancing AI across diverse patient groups. In addition, the institute will benefit from a major university-wide hiring effort through AI.Humanity, which is recruiting up to 75 new faculty who focus on AI in disciplines including health, law, business, ethics and other fields.

Ravi V. Bellamkonda, PhD, Emory University’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and a Discovery and Developmental Therapeutics researcher at Winship, emphasized, “Emory AI.Health brings together a dream team of researchers and clinicians who are deploying AI innovations to improve care not only for individuals but entire populations. By combining state-of-the-art approaches to precisely treat each person’s unique disease with a broad focus on enhanced efficacy, affordability and access, AI.Health will advance Emory’s mission of serving humanity both in Georgia and worldwide. This institute embodies our commitment to providing high-quality health care, conducting research that finds new cures and being at the leading edge of deploying powerful tools like artificial intelligence in the service of that mission.”

The Emory AI.Health institute will officially launch at a symposium held on November 14 -15, 2023, at Emory University’s HSRB-I Auditorium & Café, where experts will discuss the latest advancements, challenges and opportunities in leveraging AI for medical applications, with a significant focus on its role in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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