“Start by determining the problem you desire to solve, then decide on the technology to solve it,” said Subha Madhavan, vice president and head of clinical artificial intelligence/machine learning with global biopharmaceutical company Pfizer.
Madhavan was the keynote speaker at AI for Pediatric Health and Rare Diseases, an inter-institutional meeting of scientists and innovators co-led by Children’s National Hospital and the Virginia Tech Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics to discuss the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to understand pediatric health.
The pressing issue at the gathering at the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus in Washington, D.C., involved tackling diseases, particularly cancer, in children, an area that suffers from limited treatment options and inadequate research compared with diseases affecting adults.
“It’s hard to think of a more compelling subject than using AI to advance children’s health,” said Madhavan, who was on the Pfizer team that developed the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved oral treatment for COVID-19. “Data insights powered by AI are key to the speed and innovation of medicine development and enhancing patient outcomes and experiences.”
The Virginia Tech-Children’s National collaboration originated when Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech, introduced the leadership of the Sanghani Center to teams at Children’s National Hospital.
“As researchers in data science and machine learning, we are generalists by training,” said Naren Ramakrishnan, director of the Sanghani Center and the Thomas L. Phillips Professor in the College of Engineering. “This meeting was an opportunity to hear from Children’s National Hospital researchers about specific analytical problems they face and how we can further machine learning and AI research in support of these problems. We are connecting Virginia Tech researchers to experts who are doing clinical studies in specialized areas and have extensive health care data sets. It’s a natural fit.”
Marius Linguraru of Children’s National Hospital, who chaired the conference along with Ramakrishnan, described the potential of artificial and human intelligence working together to improve pediatric health.
“AI is the single greatest tool for improving equity and access to health care for underprivileged and marginalized communities, especially in pediatrics,” said Linguraru, principal investigator at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation. “As a population, kids are vastly underrepresented in scientific research and resulting treatments, but pediatric specialties can use AI to provide medical care to kids more efficiently, more quickly, and more effectively. We are thrilled to be part of this conversation about the future of AI in medicine, especially as we think about how to better care for children.”
The meeting featured sessions on smart surgery, rare diseases, and emergency medicine with talks by both Virginia Tech and Children’s National faculty and researchers. A panel on public-private partnerships, a luncheon discussion by FDA researchers on regulatory science tools, and spotlight talks by faculty rounded up the event.
Lance Collins, vice president and executive director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus; Vittorio Gallo, interim chief academic officer at Children’s National Hospital, and Friedlander opened the event, providing a platform for faculty and fellows from both institutions to connect, exchange ideas, and foster collaborations.
“The Sanghani Center is a wonderful resource, loaded with talent, innovation, and leadership that can be an additional nexus for Virginia Tech in the health science space, helping to create additional ties between Virginia Tech and Children’s National,” said Friedlander, who is also the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, which operates Virginia Tech’s labs on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. “Our complementary interests in data science, machine learning, and pediatric health care solutions create ideal conditions for progress and innovation.”
“Artificial intelligence is one of the key research areas of focus for the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus,” Collins said. “The partnerships between the Sanghani Center, Children’s National, and Fralin Biomedical Research Institute will continue to further the research and innovation goals of all involved. It’s an exciting time to be at Virginia Tech.”
By combining skills and resources, the collaboration aims to address pressing issues affecting the hospital, such as specific diseases, smart surgery for pediatric health, and hospital management.
“This is the perfect time to enhance these collaborations and bring the leading edge of artificial intelligence to bear on children’s health,” Gallo said.
To jump-start the research, a seed funding opportunity supported by both Virginia Tech and Children’s National was announced. The initiative is intended to provide the necessary resources for individuals to join forces across institutions and to kick-start projects that have the potential to grow into larger, impactful endeavors.
“The hope is that these seed grants will ignite collaborations and create a ripple effect of positive change,” Ramakrishnan said.
John Pastor for Virginia Tech