A new institute at Emory is leveraging AI to promote health equity

The effort seeks to eliminate local, global health disparities with artificial intelligence
Emory University held its first AI Health Symposium on Tuesday, November 14,2023. - (Beckysteinphotography.com)

Credit: Becky Stein Photography

Credit: Becky Stein Photography

Emory University held its first AI Health Symposium on Tuesday, November 14,2023. - (Beckysteinphotography.com)

Emory University has launched an institute focused on the use of artificial intelligence in the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of diseases in Georgia and across the globe.

The Emory Empathetic AI for Health Institute is the first effort of its kind in Georgia, with a mission of using AI to address inequities in health care. AI is an emerging and rapidly expanding technology in the field of medicine. Researchers hope to work collaboratively with other institutions and providers in the metro area and around the state to implement tools with a goal of enhancing care while lowering costs.

Scientists have used AI to identify differences in appearances of prostate cancer between Black and white patients, to better visualize and understand blood vessels and to better diagnose patients with cancer and other diseases. With the institute, Emory researchers look to utilize the technology, to better treat prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more.

Dr. Anant Madabhushi, a research scientist and professor of biomedical engineering at Emory and the Georgia Institute of Technology, will lead the initiative. He says that his experiences growing up in India and as an immigrant in the U.S. drive his commitment to improving health outcomes for all.

“I grew up in a lower-middle income country and I’ve seen firsthand the challenges of access to health care and access to technologies,” he said. “When you talk about places like India and Africa, you have to develop technologies that are affordable.”

Dr. Anant Madabhushi, a research scientist and professor of biomedical engineering at Emory and Georgia Institute of Technology will lead the Emory Empathetic AI for Health Institute.

Credit: Emory University

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Credit: Emory University

Madabhushi said that the institute has secured nearly $70 million in institutional and grant funding, with an overall goal of achieving $300 million in funding over the next two to three years with the help of philanthropic donations.

With the Empathetic AI for Health Institute, Madabhushi and his team will develop affordable AI tools that are both accessible and equitable to provide personalized care for patients. He says that the use of the word “empathetic” in the title was intentional because of the focus on fixing global health problems without burdensome costs, which he says is unique to the work of the institute. He said AI has to be empathetic, taking into account the experiences of a range of diverse populations, to effectively address health disparities.

Madabhushi acknowledged reservations about the use of AI in health, particularly from communities of color.

“If you don’t have data representative of populations of color as you’re developing these technologies, they’re simply not going to work in underrepresented populations or populations of color,” he said. “So, that’s something that we are very focused on.”

Given Georgia’s current health care landscape, where access to care can be a challenge and a lack of Medicaid expansion has left hundreds of thousands without coverage, the team wants to improve patient outcomes in the state.

“One of the other things that we need to consider is the large rural population that we have in Georgia. A rural population that has been largely cut off from the innovations and technology development,” he said pointing out the gaps in rural health outcomes.

In Georgia, 120 of the state’s 159 counties are considered rural. Madabhushi said that the institute intends to work with other health partners around the state, sharing tools that can benefit rural patients.

“Ultimately it all comes down to transparency. If you cannot explain how technology works, there are always going to be reservations and skepticism,” Madabhushi explained.

“We are going to focus on technology that is transparent and understandable, so that both our physicians and patients are going to be able to understand how the AI is making its predictions.”

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