Xavier University summit on artificial intelligence and health care could spur new ideas

Posted at 9:35 AM, Aug 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-23 09:35:48-04

CINCINNATI -- Hollywood has painted artificial intelligence as a helpful aspect of a bright future, and as an evil threat to humanity. But artificial intelligence could be the next most-powerful tool in health care.

Industry leaders and researchers from across the Tri-State and country will be getting together Thursday and Friday at the Xavier University Artificial Intelligence Summit to discuss how advanced computer programing could change the face of medicine.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a complex computer programing system. It uses algorithms that can change and improve over time. While the programs themselves are not capable of abstract thought, artificial intelligence systems can process data faster and more accurately than humans by thousands or even millions of times.

This data processing capability is a huge opportunity to improve health care.

AI is being used to process the huge amounts of data in health care from statistics on diseases to transmission rates. But that’s just the beginning.

Researchers are developing programs that can read through the massive amount of scientific literature for a cure associated with an ailment. AI also could accelerate personalized medicine by being able to read someone’s entire genetic code, looking for mutations that could cause diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer's.

The business side of health care could see vast improvements as well. AI programs could scan and analyze the supply chains of both drugs and devices and for potential quality-control issues. Local scientists have played a major part in leading cutting-edge developments.

Dan Santel, research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and keynote speaker at the summit, has been using artificial intelligence in his work to detect inflection and tone differences in speech patterns to indicate whether someone has depression or is suicidal.

During the summit, attendees will be organized into task forces, each focusing on an application of artificial intelligence in health care.

The task forces will meet every three weeks and will present at next year’s conference. All resources and findings will be made available free to anyone.

Marla Phillips, director of Xavier Health since 2008, is spearheading the initiative. Phillips studied chemistry at Xavier before getting her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. After working in quality control at Merck Pharmaceuticals, she moved back to Cincinnati with her family.

Marla Phillips

Shortly after returning to the area, Phillips met with Xavier Vice President John Kucia about the need to link the chemistry department with the global world. Kucia responded by offering her the role that led to the start of Xavier Health.

Since then, Xavier Health has held a variety of summits to bring members of the health care industry together and discuss cutting-edge developments in the field. In addition to the pharmaceutical and medical device summits, both held every spring and co-sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is also a combination products summit in the fall. The first cybersecurity summit is being planned for later this year.

The idea of an artificial intelligence summit came from a committee member during the planning meeting last summer. Phillips made the decision to make the initiative bigger and bring a larger ecosystem together, expanding into this week’s summit and an active initiative led by Xavier Health.

Phillips sees Xavier expanding its artificial intelligence initiative into something more formalized, including more local partnerships linked to the current undergraduate degrees that include artificial intelligence across all three colleges within the university.

Xavier students would get the chance to gain real skills pertaining to AI and work with industry leaders.

While science fiction paints artificial intelligence as a potential danger to humanity, Phillips’ biggest concern is human nature.

“AI will more often make the right decision than humans,” Phillips said. “What worries me is people getting complacent in a system that is constantly improving. Why should I check a system that is correct all the time?”

That accountability and oversight is something both private and public leaders will need to flesh out in the coming years.

Another big challenge in AI is how to validate a system that is continuously learning and changing. One of the task forces at the summit will be dedicated to identifying a process that ensures quality in a constantly evolving system.

But since the real power of AI in health care is in data processing, there is little worry that computers will replace doctors, or that machines will be conducting your yearly physical. Humans will still be necessary for strategic and big picture decision-making.

There’s real possibility for many of the ailments that have arisen during the last 50 years -- including cancer, HIV, dementia and antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- to be addressed through artificial intelligence techniques.

“There’s no limit to what we can apply this to,” Phillips said. “I get emails almost every day from people wanting to share how they apply AI. From wound care to patient records, it’s really amazing.”

Chris Anderson is a local science educator, aspiring science communicator, and founder of the blog