Researchers win AU$2.9M toward AI precision medicine for MS

MRFF award will aid development of tech to improve treatment decisions

Andrea Lobo, PhD avatar

by Andrea Lobo, PhD |

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The Australian government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has awarded AU$2.9 million (about $1.96 million) to support a project focused on developing artificial intelligence (AI) precision medicine strategies for multiple sclerosis (MS).

The project will be conducted by a team of investigators that will include neurologists, neuroradiologists, and data scientists. It also will include industry partners — FPT Software and GE HealthCare Australia — and consumer representatives.

The researchers will focus on developing AI technology that improves decision-making when choosing which MS disease-modifying therapy is best for which patient and when it may be time to switch treatments.

“Other outcomes we aim to deliver include improvement in the accuracy of treatment decisions and reduced uncertainty associated with therapy selection,” Winston Chong, a neuroradiologist at the School of Translational Medicine and Alfred Health at Monash University and one of the lead investigators in the project, said in a Monash press release.

The team also seeks to develop “better monitoring tools to complement current clinical assessments, reductions in MS-related disability accrual, improvements in patient care and experiences, and reduced health care costs,” Chong said.

MS occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath, a protective coating around nerve fibers that facilitate nerve cell communication. Loss of myelin leads to progressive nerve cell degeneration, causing a range of disease symptoms.

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AI toward better disease monitoring, treatment efficacy

While more than 20 therapies are approved to reduce the immune attack in MS, they have different safety and efficacy profiles, and it’s not always easy to determine which one is best for a given patient.

There are also unmet medical needs in monitoring disease progression, as tools such as MRI are conducted months apart and can be prone to human error when examined by radiologists and neurologists. Also, when a scan shows a specific treatment isn’t working as expected, doctors may have to select an alternative treatment.

The project seeks to use AI technologies to address these challenges to create better tools for monitoring disease progression and treatment efficacy, thereby improving disease management and patient outcomes.

Along with Chong, other chief investigators include Mastura Monif, PhD, neurologist and associate professor at Alfred Health and School of Translational Medicine at Monash University, and Yasmeen George, PhD, AI/data scientist at the Faculty of Information Technology of Monash University, along with others. Researchers at Eastern Health and the University of Western Australia/Perron Institute also will participate.

The project will be supported by the MRFF’s National Critical Research Infrastructure Initiative Grant, which seeks to establish facilities, research equipment, systems, and services for health and medical research.