In 2014 when the Rogers’ family gave $150 million to create the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, part of that went to discover how AI can prevent and treat heart failure.
Last year when Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman gave $100 million to build the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society, part of that went to discover how AI could prevent and treat societal failure.
Last month when James and Louise Temerty gave $250 million to the U of T Medical School, the first item in the long list of where that money would be spent was “advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning which are revolutionizing diagnostics, drug discovery and patient care.”
So why is Toronto rushing to fund artificial intelligence in medicine?
I asked Dr. Heather Ross, heart failure cardiologist, Antarctic mountain-climber, R&B vocalist, and the scientific lead at the Ted Rogers Centre. She explained the power of AI this way: “Would you get on a plane if you knew that you only had a 72% chance of landing safely?”
“Today, we recommend people for a heart transplant based on a VO2 Max Test, the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise. By itself, this is 72% accurate. But with machine learning, we can unlock every single piece of data from the cardiopulmonary exercise machine. Not just that one number from that one machine and test but every single piece of data from that machine, including from the thousands of transplant candidates who had gone before. Using just this, we’ve improved the accuracy from 72% to 84%.”
This is just a small example of how AI will transform vast swaths of medicine in a big way.
Says Dr. Ross: “When we think about data in medicine, the amount of data exceeds the capacity of the human mind to manage it. Historically we have been reductionist in our approaches, i.e. describing complex things in terms of simple constituents. But with AI, we can recognize just how complex biologic systems are because we can access and analyse worlds of data we never had before.”
“Now, we can search for associations we didn’t know existed. We can access genomic data, data imaging, worlds of data that before AI, we would drown in.”
“We can also help other doctors make better decisions. If you’re a family doctor in a remote community, you may not have seen a lot of heart failure. But now we can help you diagnose and treat your patient, using predictive analytics and algorithms.”
“Today, a lot of heart protocols and risk assessments are based on clinical trials done mostly on old white men. But what if you’re a 30-year old Black woman with what looks like heart failure?”
“In just a few years, we’ll be able to tap into all the information of all 30-year old Black women with heart failure – not just in the GTA, but around the world. From this base, we’ll be able to cross-analyse factors like genetics, drug reactions and so forth. So we’ll know, for example, in advance that if we give her Drug A, for one thing, the chances it will work will be 71%, and if we give her Drug B for that, the chances will be 93%. Predictive analytics not only give new meaning to the idea of medical miracles, it will save countless lives from what today is the number one killer in the world.”
“It also helps that we live and work in the most multicultural city in the world. So we’re highly sensitized to issues like bias that are a growing downside to AI in medicine and the world beyond.”
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Toronto is fortunate to already be the lead dog in the world of artificial intelligence.
One reason for that is that Torontonians with the kind of money to place huge bets on the future, are giving so much of it to the one university and its hospital network that improves the odds of winning those life-and-death bets.