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18 November 2020

Embassy of Sweden and QF RDI discuss AI and precision medicine


Experts from academia, government agencies and the corporate sector come together to talk about advances and challenges

The world is facing a wide spectrum of challenges in the realm of climate change, security, and health. Two emerging technologies that are anticipated to play a major role in combating these challenges are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Precision Medicine (PM).

The Embassy of Sweden in Qatar in partnership with Qatar Foundation Research, Development, and Innovation (QF RDI), recently organized a hybrid webinar focusing on AI and PM. The event brought together experts from academia, government agencies and the corporate sector.

Khalid Fakhro

Amongst the topics of discussion were ongoing research in each of the respective countries, key factors for countries and companies to be competitive in AI and PM and how different sectors can work together in the two fields towards the best interest of their respective countries.

To meaningfully contribute to AI, you need the country at all levels to be capable consumers of AI

Ashraf Aboulnaga

Speaking on what enables a country to become an active player in the space of AI, Dr. Ashraf Aboulnaga, Senior Research Director, Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) at Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Hamad Bin Khalifa University, said: “To meaningfully contribute to AI, you need the country at all levels to be capable consumers of AI, to understand how to put AI to use in finding solutions to different problems. And, you also need the country to be a producer of AI, which is where the role of research institutes in producing AI becomes very important”.

We don't want just any AI, we want AI that's human centric and which we can trust.

Fredrik Heintz

While stressing on the importance of AI and the need to push towards its applications in various sectors, Dr. Fredrik Heintz, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Linköping University, said it is important to remember, “We don't want just any AI, we want AI that's human centric and which we can trust. Look at AI as a means and not an end; so use it to do good.”

He explained that to achieve such a safe and trustworthy AI system, we need to combine existing data driven machine learning types of approaches with high level symbolic reasoning.

AI research efforts in Qatar are ongoing , Dr. Othmane Bouhali, Director of Research Computing and Research Professor at Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMU-Q), a QF partner university, discussed his research on the use of AI in radiation therapy treatment.

His team has been working on applying AI for radiotherapy, particularly personalized dose optimization. “This is very important especially for women with breast cancer because it has been shown statistically that 30 percent of the women being treated by radiotherapy develop cardiovascular diseases after 5 to 10 years of treatment because there is a significant dose that reaches the heart. Dose optimization can greatly minimize this risk,” said Dr. Bouhali.

It is important to understand that AI will not advance without access to the data

Othmane Bouhali

Commenting on what small countries like Qatar and Sweden can do to stay competitive in the global AI and PM race, Dr. Daniel Rencrantz, Head of Department for Innovation Management, Vinnova highlighted that collaboration was key. He said: “We must accept that we can’t do everything ourselves, this is why it's important to have international connections.

How does a country become a collaborator that is sought after? By making sure you have an edge, it could be data, companies or incubators. You really need to ensure that you have a unique selling proposition (USP) and then connect yourself internationally.”

One of the problems with PM is the massive data it generates and the importance of finding tools that can sift through this data in a timely manner to find something meaningful.

“In principle, precision medicine technologies help us ‘digitize’ the patient, converting a small clinical sample into potentially millions of data points,” said Dr. Khalid A. Fakhro, Sidra Medicine’s Chief Research Officer & Director of its Precision Medicine Program. “Looking at a person’s disease in this way may be difficult for us today, but this is exactly where the intersection of artificial intelligence and precision medicine will make the biggest impact in clinical care in the future.”

The general consensus amongst the speakers was that the biggest hindrance to the development of both these technologies is the difficulty in accessing data. “It is important to understand that AI will not advance without access to the data. This is a very important aspect - to try to ease the legal aspect of allowing researchers access to data,” said Dr. Bouhali.

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