Canada emerging as global hub for healthcare AI

There are growing signs that Canada is emerging as a global hub of expertise in AI for medicine and healthcare applications. A number of innovative projects and technologies have been launched in this area in recent months – and several observers predict there is considerable potential for continued expansion.

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In recent years, Canada has nurtured a strong reputation as a global centre for AI research and development and cemented its position as a pioneer in this area through the establishment of world-renowned centres of excellence such as MILA and AMII, as well as the Vector Institute in Toronto. Building on this success, there are now growing indications that the country is also becoming a global leader in AI for medicine and healthcare applications.

A great deal of this progress is being spearheaded by universities, through initiatives like the recently established Temerty Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research and Education in Medicine (T-CAIREM). As Muhammad Mamdani, Director at T-CAIREM and professor at the University of Toronto, which hosts the Centre, explains, the Centre aims to: establish a leading education program in applied artificial intelligence for medical and health science professionals; create a robust health data environment ‘enabling timely access to high quality health data to fuel innovation and quality improvement and support education programs’; and foster multidisciplinary, collaborative research in artificial intelligence in medical and health sciences and ‘encourage clinical translation.’ In moving towards these goals, T-CAIREM has three themes - Education, Research, and Infrastructure - each linked to a range of key outputs (see Table 1).

Table 1: T-CAIREM – Key Themes and Outputs

Theme

 

Output

Education

· Launch of Speaker Series featuring prominent leaders in AI in Medicine in January 2021;

· Launch of set of trainee rounds bringing together students in numerous disciplines including medicine, computer science, statistics, and engineering;

· Provision of 14 studentships in summer 2021;

· Coordination of structured training materials for a variety of learners, including beginners, intermediate learners, and advanced learners in 2022;

·  Establishment of mentorship program in late 2021.

Research

·  Two $200K grants offered for research initiatives focusing on transformative ideas in AI in medicine (over 60 applications received, with awards scheduled for autumn 2021).

Infrastructure

· Develop robust 'collaborative' data environment on Amazon Web Services to enable researchers to easily access large datasets and share data (scheduled for full functionality in early 2022).

· Build community by establishing several forums where members can post ideas and ask for collaborators, as well as set up interest groups.

In Mamdani’s view, there is ‘considerable’ long-term potential for Canada to develop as a globally significant centre of expertise in medical and healthcare AI – particularly in view of the fact that the country has ‘several key, world class centres for AI including the Vector Institute, MILA, and AMII.’

“I believe federal, provincial, and local investments will continue to grow in this area. One challenge is the coordination of efforts locally and nationally - AI is driven by data and culture. While there are initiatives locally and nationally to consolidate large datasets, the timeliness of data becomes important for actual implementation purposes and comprehensive real-time datasets aren't widely available,” he says.

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