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How Alibaba Cloud ET Medical Brain Is Transforming Healthcare with Artificial Intelligence

The article explores AI's transformative role in the medical industry, including supporting drug discovery, medical research, diagnosis, early detection, prediction, and treatment of diseases.

Developments in medical sciences have improved average human life expectancy over the years. Technological improvements have also made a significant improvement in processing, storage, and distribution of life-saving medicines. However, very few of the developing countries offer universal health care. Furthermore, healthcare services is not evenly distributed to the public and access to quality healthcare comes with high costs.

Why Artificial Intelligence Is Crucial for Healthcare

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to cut-down treatment costs by as much as 50%, and improve medical treatment outcomes by 30% to 40%, according to a report by Frost and Sullivan. But, before we start discussing AI advancements in the healthcare industry, it is important to understand what the technology is and why it is making so much hype. For the uninitiated, AI is an umbrella term for a range of technologies such as machine learning, cognitive computing, deep learning, neural networks, and natural language processing. The end goal of all these technologies is to impart "smartness" to computers so that they can behave in a manner akin to humans, or even better.

It is common knowledge that computers are adept at mathematical calculations. However, AI takes this ability to the next level. AI makes computers capable of complex human tasks such as understanding facial expressions, reading information in visuals/images, and using heuristics to find approximate solutions.

So how does all this help doctors? Let's take the example of machine learning. Machine learning is a branch of AI in which computers analyze vast of amounts of data to learn and improve from experience. Researchers are now using different machine learning approaches to create systems that can predict, prevent, or even cure diseases. Unlike traditional software systems, machine learning attempts to do all this with minimal human intervention. This not only reduces manual work but also reduces human errors and biases.

As the medical industry is facing a shortage of lab technicians, AI-based applications can also help by filling the void. Such intelligent applications can help in creating pathological reports by analyzing X-rays, CT scans, blood samples, and other medical tests. These systems can perform routine tasks with higher speed and accuracy.

Another major area where AI is making a huge impact is pharmaceutical research and development. Clinical trials and drug approvals usually cost billions of dollars and decades of research to pharmaceutical companies. With AI, these processes can be made faster and more cost-efficient. AI can help researchers find the most suitable drugs for specific treatments by making accurate probabilistic models to predict the outcome of each treatment.

Artificial Intelligence can also increase the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment of patients. In conventional practices, medical diagnosis is still not a perfect science. It is not uncommon for doctors to provide different treatment plans on evaluating a single patient. By analyzing historical data extensively, accurate diagnosis can be made by simply measuring a patient's vital signs.

Startups Joining the AI Bandwagon in Healthcare

To expedite AI research in the healthcare industry, Google is supporting several AI-based healthcare startups through its accelerator platform Launchpad Studio. These startups are receiving development support such as datasets and testing environments for prototyping, and guidance from Google's mentors. Apart from Google's batch of medical AI startups, there are numerous other AI-based startups that have gained popularity in the recent times.

  1. Brendan Frey's Deep Genomics aims to build a data and AI-driven platform for geneticists, molecular biologists, and chemists for medical research.
  2. Turbine has designed an AI solution for personalized treatments of all cancer types, which is much faster than traditional methods.
  3. Israel-based Beyond Verbal is using AI to detect human emotions and vocal biomarkers for identifying various health conditions.
  4. Medicrea Group has developed a data-driven portal for its adaptive spine intelligence technology. It uses analytics and machine learning to assist spine surgeons in developing personalized implants for patients.
  5. AI-chatbots are also making their impact in the healthcare industry. Different medical institutions have deployed chatbots to help customers in identifying a suitable benefit plan and provide customer support responses. Some startups are also exploring the possibility of AI-powered chatbots that can assist in self-diagnosis based on the symptoms and wearable device/smartphone data.

Let's now see how Alibaba is making significant contributions in the medical and healthcare space in China.

Alibaba Cloud Driving the Change in the Medical Industry

In recent years, China has invested heavily in artificial intelligence, aiming to be a world-leader in AI by 2025. The Chinese government recently set aside $2.12 billion for development of an AI technology park near Beijing. This park will promote firms working in the field of big-data, deep learning, and cloud computing. While China has only recently started pushing AI research and development work, firms like Alibaba Cloud have already made significant progress in developing AI-driven applications for the medical industry.

  1. In 2016, Alibaba Cloud collaborated with Intel and BGI Genomics to launch a large-scale bioinformatics analysis platform capable of sequencing entire human genome within 24 hours.
  2. In 2017, Alibaba Health launched Doctor You which is an intelligent diagnostics solution that uses image recognition for early diagnosis of cancer. Alibaba Cloud has also partnered with Wuhan Landing Medical High-tech Co. to develop a system that detects early-stage cervical cancer using cell cytology. This system uses advanced visual computation and AI technologies. Further, Alibaba Cloud is training machines to read high-resolution CT scans and detect lung cancers.
  3. Alibaba Cloud launched ET Medical Brain in March 2017. It is a comprehensive suite of AI-based solutions for the medical industry. Medical institutions can use these solutions for drug development and hospital management. They can also create virtual assistants using the AI platform. Some advanced applications leverage AI-based medical imaging for diagnosis of diseases and tumors. The solution improves the accuracy of detection and reduces misdiagnosis.

These developments are significant for improving the state of healthcare in China. According to the World Bank, 43% of China's population still resides in rural areas. Healthcare facilities in these rural areas are often not sufficient to support this large population. Furthermore, access to quality healthcare services in cities isn't easy and also out of budget for many families.

Technology led innovations, such as those made possible with Alibaba Cloud's ET Brain can bridge this gap. The AI-based solutions can help in screening and evaluation efforts in TB-prevalent areas which lack access to trained radiologists. Similar cost-effective solutions could help in the interpretation of radiographs or other pathological reports for early identification and treatment of diseases.

Conclusion

We have seen numerous examples and applications of AI in the medical industry. While this isn't an exhaustive list, it should give a brief overview of the AI trends dominant in the industry. AI, Big Data, and Blockchain led advances have already started the transformation. One can expect that the ongoing research will lead to breakthroughs in the development of drugs for diseases that doctors today find incurable. Big Data and AI solutions will help scientists in finding solutions to prevent pandemics. Further, numerous applications and virtual assistants would increase the coverage of healthcare for the masses.

To learn more about Alibaba Cloud's AI solutions, visit the ET Brain page.

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