The future of pediatric medicine holds the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) that can help diagnose rare diseases, provide roadmaps for safer surgeries, tap into predictive technologies to guide individual treatment plans and shrink the distance between patients in rural areas and specialty care providers.
These and dozens of other innovations were contemplated as scientists came together at the inaugural symposium on AI in Pediatric Health and Rare Diseases, hosted by Children’s National Hospital and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech. The daylong event drew experts from the Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer, Oracle Health, NVIDIA, AWS Health and elsewhere to start building a community aimed at using data for the advancement of pediatric medicine.
“AI is the single greatest tool for improving equity and access to health care,” said symposium host Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation. “As a population, kids are vastly underrepresented in scientific research and resulting treatments, but pediatric specialties can use AI to provide medical care to kids more efficiently, more quickly and more effectively.”
What they’re saying
Scientists shared their progress in building digital twins to predict surgical outcomes, enhancing visualization to increase the precision of delicate interventions, establishing data command centers to anticipate risks for fragile patients and more. Over two dozen speakers shared their vision for the future of medicine, augmented by the power of AI:
- Keynote speaker Subha Madhavan, Ph.D., vice president and head of AI and machine learning at Pfizer, discussed various use cases and the potential to bring drugs to market faster using real-world evidence and AI. She saw promise for pediatrics. “This is probably the most engaging mission: children’s health and rare diseases,” she said. “It’s hard to find another mission that’s as compelling.”
- Brandon J. Nelson, Ph.D., staff fellow in the Division of Imaging, Diagnostics and Software Reliability at the Food and Drug Administration, shared ways AI will improve diagnostic imaging and reduce radiation exposure to patients, using more advanced image reconstruction and denoising techniques. “That is really our key take-home message,” he said. “We can get what … appear as higher dose images, but with less dose.”
- Daniel Donoho, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Children’s National, introduced the audience to the potential of “Smart ORs”: operating rooms where systems can ingest surgery video and provide feedback and skill assessments. “We have to transform the art of surgery into a measurable and improvable scientific practice,” he said.
- Debra Regier, M.D., chief of Genetics and Metabolism at Children’s National, discussed how AI could be used to diagnose and treat rare diseases by conducting deep dives into genetics and studying dysmorphisms in patients’ faces. Already, Children’s National has designed an app – mGene – that measures facial features and provides a risk score to help anyone in general practice determine if a child has a genetic condition. “The untrained eye can stay the untrained eye, and the family can continue to have faith in their provider,” she said.
Linguraru and others stressed the need to design AI for kids, rather than borrow it from adults, to ensure medicine meets their unique needs. He noted that scientists will need to solve challenges, such as the lack of data inherent in rare pediatric disorders and the simple fact that children grow. “Children are not mini-adults,” Linguraru said. “There are big changes in a child’s life.”
The landscape will require thoughtfulness. Naren Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., director of the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence & Analytics at Virginia Tech and symposium co-host, said that scientists are heading into an era with a new incarnation of public-private partnerships, but many questions remain about how data will be shared and organizations will connect. “It is not going to be business as usual, but what is this new business?” he asked.