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U.S. National Institutes of Health Turns to AI for Fight Against COVID-19

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The National Institutes of Health has turned to artificial intelligence (AI) for diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of COVID-19 through the creation of the Medical Imaging and Data Resource Center (MIDRC). 

What is the MIDRC?

The MIDRC consists of multiple institutions working together, led by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), which is part of NIH. The collaboration aims to develop new technologies that will help physicians detect the virus early and create personalized therapies for patients.

Bruce J. Tromberg, Ph.D., is Director of the NIBIB.

“This program is particularly exciting because it will give us new ways to rapidly turn scientific findings into practical imaging tools that benefit COVID-19 patients,” Tromberg said. “It unites leaders in medical imaging and artificial intelligence from academia, professional societies, industry, and government to take on this important challenge.”

One of the ways experts assess the severity of a COVID-19 case is by looking at the features of infected lungs and hearts on medical images. This can also help predict how a patient will respond to treatment and improve the overall outcomes. 

The big challenge surrounding this method is that it’s difficult to rapidly and accurately identify these signatures and evaluate the information, especially when there are other clinical symptoms and tests. 

Machine Learning Algorithms

The MIDRC aims to develop and implement new and effective diagnostics. One of these will be machine learning algorithms, which solve some of those issues. Machine learning algorithms can help physicians optimize treatment after accurately and rapidly assessing the disease. 

Guoying Liu, Ph.D., is the NIBIB scientific program lead on the new approach.

“This effort will gather a large repository of COVID-19 chest images,” Liu explained, “allowing researchers to evaluate both lung and cardiac tissue data, ask critical research questions, and develop predictive COVID-19 imagining signatures that can be delivered to healthcare providers.”

Krishna Kandarpa, M.D., Ph.D., is director of research sciences and strategic directions at NIBIB. 

“This major initiative responds to the international imagining community’s expressed unmet need for a secure technological network to enable the development and ethical application of artificial intelligence to make the best medical decisions for COVID-19 patients,” Kandarpa said. “Eventually, the approaches developed could benefit other conditions as well.”

Some of the other major names on this project include Maryellen L. Giger, Ph.D., who is taking the lead. She is Professor of Radiology, Committee on Medical Physics at the University of Chicago. Co-investigators include Etta Pisano, MD, and Michael Tikin, MS, from the American College of Radiology (ACR), Curtis Langlotz, MD, Ph.D., and Adam Flanders, MD, from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), and Paul Kinahan, Ph.D., from the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM). 

Through collaborations between the ACR, RSNA, and AAPM, the MIDRC will work toward rapid collection, analysis, and dissemination of imagining and other clinical data. 

While many believe that the adoption of AI for pandemic-related solutions is long overdue, the National Institutes of Health’s new MIDRC is a step in that direction. It is only a matter of time before AI plays a major role in the detection, response, and eventual prevention of global pandemic causing viruses.