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COVID-19 Response: Microsoft leverages AI tool to mobilise researchers, government and healthcare workers

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In times of the COVID-19 crisis, Microsoft has been leveraging collaboration and harnessing its AI capabilities to reach out to the government, researchers and healthcare providers across the globe to provide assistance in their endeavours. John Kahan, Chief Data Analytics Officer, Microsoft explains further on how Microsoft is trying to create value using data sciences while speaking with Raelene Kambli

How will Microsoft’s AI for health empower non-for-profits, researchers and organisations with AI and data science tools in the time of crisis?

Earlier this year, we launched AI for Health to empower researchers and organisations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world. AI for Health is a philanthropic initiative that complements our broader work in Microsoft Healthcare. Through this initiative, our aim is to empower non-profits, researchers and organisations with AI and data science tools, and by providing access to Microsoft AI, technical experts, data scientists and other resources.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, we are mobilising our AI for Health initiative to focus on helping those on the front lines of research of COVID-19. We’re specifically focusing our efforts in five areas where we think data, analysis and the skills of our data scientists can have the biggest impact.

Data and insights to inform about people’s safety and economic impacts, treatment and diagnostics, enabling research to further the development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutic allocation of resources, including recommendations on the allocation of limited assets, such as hospital space and medical supplies. This also includes dissemination of accurate information to minimise misinformation while sharing scientific research to study and understand COVID-19.

Microsoft has committed to dedicate $20 million to mobilise the AI for Health initiative for research. Can you tell us what kind of research will this involve? Who will Microsoft collaborate with to initiate and execute the plan? Will there be private and government partners too in this initiative?

Given the global scale of the pandemic, technology will play a critical role in nearly every facet of addressing COVID-19, from using AI to crunch massive datasets to analysing disease vectors and identifying treatment impacts. Some of the government and private organisations we are partnering with include: The COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium, a private-public effort spearheaded by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, for which Microsoft is providing researchers access to the world’s most powerful computing resources. The Washington State Department of Health is working on a new dashboard that aims to increase timeliness, accuracy and speed of data reporting to the public. The dashboard relies on data reported by local health jurisdictions, healthcare facilities and labs. Take, for example, the Brazilian leader in chatbots and the smart contacts market developed a bot to bring official and credible information to the public and connect potential patients to medical teams to avoid overloading Brazilian hospitals.

Who are the researchers you are currently working with in this area?

Some of the of key researchers and academic institutions that we are currently working with are, The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a global health research organisation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, is releasing a set of COVID-19 data visualisations and forecasts that the White House, FEMA, governors and hospital administrators have started using to mobilise resources. [email protected], a global organisation that uses distributed computing is researching COVID-19 proteins that could help with designing therapeutics. The Sepsis Center of Research Excellence (SCORE-UW), part of the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine, is a global collaboration between a network of hospitals, industry, blood banks, universities and funding partners. Using clinical data, radiologic imaging and other patient biomarker responses, SCORE-UW is developing novel algorithms to predict and improve healthcare and socioeconomic outcomes of COVID-19 positive patients.

How can data and computation facilitate the path to mitigating this pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic is putting unprecedented demands on healthcare systems and workers globally. Managing response efforts requires the coming together of every sector of society – governments, businesses, non-profit organisations and individuals. At times like these, data visualisation can help researchers, public health officials and governments to better understand and respond to the COVID-19 crisis. From tracking up-to-date information about the number of confirmed cases to securing medical supplies to enabling disaster management efforts for citizen safety, data can empower researchers and organisations to solve this crisis together.

What role can AI play in finding solutions to response actions, research for treatment, molecular sciences, etc.?

Over the last 30 years, health professionals around the world have reduced the number of annual children and maternal deaths by half. This monumental achievement demonstrates that great progress can be made when the global health community works together to create positive change, but we have an opportunity to go further, to accelerate research and scale new solutions. This is where AI for Health can help. There are real health issues in which AI can play an important role, and it may be our best option to accelerate research or expand the reach of new solutions, especially in areas that may lack attention from the commercial health sector.

For example, technology can help scale screenings for diabetic retinopathy – an issue facing 463 million people – to expand the reach of ophthalmologists, as there are only 210,000 in the world; or in cases such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), where it is tough for organisations to invest in research given the size of the affected population, to better understand and mitigate against general infant death.

Microsoft has an opportunity to extend its contribution to the world by dedicating data science expertise, technology and resources to help solve pressing health issues. The AI for Health programme will operate via collaborations that leverage our best AI tools and technical expertise from Microsoft to further quests for medical discovery, uncover global health insights and increase health equity across underserved populations.

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