A few vulnerable groups of patients were also alerted when the pandemic started. For example, patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) wondered whether they were more susceptible to COVID-19, whether they could still undergo their treatment, whether the virus would trigger a new MS attack, and so on. To be able to provide correct medical advice, the MS Data Alliance, with UHasselt [University of Hasselt] as its coordinator, launched a study in record time. A database was built together with researchers from the Flanders AI Research Program to host the health data of MS patients from more than 80 countries. These data were collected and analyzed to adjust the COVID-19 advice for people with MS based on data-driven insights. This medical advice is now available in 14 different languages around the world.
QUALITY MEDICAL CARE
The Flanders AI Research Program will naturally cover many more medical applications. Sabine Demey explains the focus: "We are geared to methods that can support and improve healthcare in the coming years. Thanks to AI, people can get the right diagnosis and treatment faster, plus a qualitative follow-up that monitors the patient in all circumstances, in the hospital and at home."
One high-profile area of this research is single-cell technology. To gain a better understanding into how our bodies work and to be able to map out the immune system in detail, this technology focuses on the study of tissues and cells in unprecedented detail. This can lead to revolutionary results through ‘bespoke' treatment for patients in oncology, neurology, immunology, and stem cell research. You can make that step towards precision medicine if you manage to turn the detailed insights into new treatment methods. Single-cell technology can thus have an extraordinary impact on the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industry. But... to gain substantiated insights, you first need to input and analyse a huge volume of data. And that is a real bottleneck. That is why the UGent/VIB research group is working within the Flanders AI Research Program on the development of new methods to analyse single-cell data.
AI PREDICTS EPILEPTIC SEIZURES
Some 60,000 people have epilepsy in Belgium. Despite their medical treatment, 1 in 3 suffers from sudden and unexpected seizures. Most epileptic seizures occur at home, not in the presence of caregivers and hospital equipment. The goal within the program is therefore to develop a method that can help the patient outside the hospital environment. KU Leuven, Ghent University, and Hasselt University are working together with UZ Leuven to develop an AI method that predicts as accurately as possible when a patient will have the next epileptic seizure or when the risk of a seizure increases significantly. Patients can monitor themselves better with this information, while the treating neurologist can get a better idea of the patient's medical condition.
IN SEARCH OF THE OPTIMAL PATIENT FLOW
In 2020, 1 in 5 people living in Flanders was 65+. And that number will increase in the coming years. The percentage of hospital admissions increases with age, so we expect the pressure on our hospitals to rise as well. The top priority in the health sector is to provide patients with optimal care. More and more hospitals are consequently looking at AI to plan the treatment of their patients better, so that patients spend less time waiting for their treatment, surgery, diagnostic admission, etc. It is important for hospitals to make the best possible use of the time patients spend on their premises. The length of stay is an important parameter for the planning and organizing of operations and patient treatment, staffing and the use of technology and logistics. An optimal patient flow can therefore lead to greater patient satisfaction as well as cost savings for the hospital.
Under the Flanders AI Research Program, the KU Leuven team, in cooperation with UZ Leuven, is looking for an AI-based approach that takes the patient's specific needs, condition and development into account to chart an optimal hospital planning.