Meet 10 organizations using AI to transform health and wellness

Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to change how we manage our health. Already, AI and machine learning models are helping diagnose diseases, monitor treatment plans and other vital tasks. Despite these advancements, we've only begun to scratch the surface of how AI can transform healthcare.

The PrairiesCan AI Ecosystems Project encouraged innovation in healthcare and wellness, all while growing Alberta's AI community. The program brought together companies, a healthcare facility, a post-secondary institution and Amii to support ground-breaking new uses for artificial intelligence in health and wellness.

Building better tests

Medical testing is one of the cornerstones of diagnosis and treatment. Many ecosystems projects focused on using artificial intelligence to create move effective, easier-to-use testing platforms.

Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common. Nanospeed Diagnostics is using artificial intelligence to improve testing for that condition. By training a machine learning model to look for markers indicating a lack of Vitamin D, they aim for a test with faster results, using less blood and at lower cost.

When the global pandemic struck, Bio-Stream Diagnostics saw an urgent need for quick, accurate COVID testing. So they quickly went to work on a handheld testing device that could measure the voltage of a saliva sample to detect the virus within minutes with a high degree of accuracy.

"It was just invaluable for us. AI to really be able to iterate quickly through research data and through the test data, which allows us to actually create a usable product," says John Murphy, co-founder and CEO of Bio-Stream.

Better access for patients

Artificial intelligence also offers a potential solution to one of healthcare's perennial problems: limited resources. There's only so much funding, space, time and staff to handle an increasing number of patients. Some pilots projects focused on making more efficient use of healthcare resources to help patients.

Diagnosing and treating cancer is both time-consuming and intensive. A pilot program at the Cross Cancer Institute uses artificial intelligence and data analytics to sift through the vast store of data the centre collects on its patients. The insights that data could provide into the effectiveness and costs of treatment options are vital for long-term planning and helping the greatest number of patients possible.

CardiAi, founded by Calgary cardiologist Dr Anmol Kapoor, uses machine learning to develop models that spot warning signs of heart disease in heart monitor data and cardiac imaging. By flagging patients with worrying signs, the AI models can help cardiologists determine which patients most require their attention.

"We want to close the huge healthcare gap we have. With AI, we can give better care to large segments of the population, reduce economic and healthcare disparity, and improve access," Kapoor says.

AI for any size organization

The organizations participating in the Ecosystems Project ranged from large non-profits to one or two-person companies, showing that organizations of any size can benefit from artificial intelligence. Larger organizations, like the Canadian Sport Institute (CSI) Calgary, are experimenting with artificial intelligence to help find equipment and clothing to help top tier athletes perform at their best.

But AI can also be transformative for smaller organizations. Karmalife uses genetic information to build personalized nutritional and fitness guidance. The operation is run mainly out of the home of founder Carmen Tocheniuk. Using artificial intelligence to streamline the data analysis gives her a much wider reach than she thought possible.

"I guess my endgame is to help as many people in the world as I can. And without AI, it wouldn't be possible," she says.

Individualized care and personal control over health were also part of many other ecosystems projects. Edmonton-based Umay used machine learning to find patterns in sleep data that helped them develop their thermal therapy device, which helps people reduce stress and combat eye strain. However, that's just the beginning; co-founder Ali Sharmin says apps and wearable devices are the future of personalized healthcare, and artificial intelligence will be a crucial part of enabling people to make sense of their health data.

Bringing it all together

Alberta is likely to play a starring role in the future of healthcare AI. Strengthening the province's AI community was a vital part of the ecosystems project, where many of the organizations were adopting artificial intelligence for the first time. To achieve success, they needed help from companies with established AI expertise. That's where organizations like Clinysis came in, which provided data analysis and machine-learning knowledge to companies in the ecosystem project.

Technology is one part of the equation. But organizations also need workers who are comfortable using artificial intelligence. Norquest's contribution to the project, their Machine Learning Analyst program, trains students in a combination of technical and business skills highly sought by industry.

StreamML was also a vital partner, leveraging their machine learning platform to help ecosystem projects that relied heavily on visual data. The company's founder, Walter Schwabe, says that investing in Alberta's AI community creates a positive feedback loop: organizations doing innovative things with AI attracts talent from across the world, which allows for more innovation.

"People may not know that we have an incredibly deep and robust artificial intelligence community in Edmonton and Alberta," he says.

"You've got a really, really powerful machine literally moving down the road. And for me, it's just exciting to be a part of that."

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