DHMC campus to host AI initiative

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-09-2023 8:26 PM

LEBANON — With $2 million, the Geisel School of Medicine and the Dartmouth Cancer Center are launching a new Center for Precision Health and Artificial Intelligence on the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center campus in Lebanon.

The new center, which will be based in the Williamson Translational Research Building on DHMC’s campus, aims to bring together related research and clinical efforts across Dartmouth to use information about patients’ biology, such as genetics, medical history, lifestyle and environment to create personalized treatment plans and disease-prevention strategies in order to improve people’s health.

“It is a very active domain of research,” Saeed Hassanpour, a Dartmouth associate professor of biomedical data science, epidemiology and computer science and the center’s inaugural director, said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of promise.”

There have been discussions about creating a Dartmouth center focused on artificial intelligence and precision health since before the COVID-19 pandemic, but more recently “AI has emerged as this transformative force that can really change different fields,” Hassanpour said. “It’s a perfect time.”

In the past decade, genomic sequencing, molecular testing, imaging techniques and wearable monitoring devices have all become more advanced, affordable and widely available. The market for AI in health care is expected to grow from about $14.6 billion in 2023 to more than $102.7 billion in 2028, according to a market research report by published by the advisory company MarketsandMarkets.

AI, using computer models, can sift through large, complex datasets to identify trends and patterns. In health care, AI can help predict disease risk, improve the accuracy of diagnoses, anticipate the course of an illness and tailor treatment options. AI can be used by pathologists and radiologists to help them prioritize the most pressing cases, for example, Hassanpour said.

Cancer, the second leading cause of death in the U.S. and a complex one, will be a major focus of the center, he said.

“Cancer really is a big problem in lots of ways,” Dr. Steven Leach, director of the Dartmouth Cancer Center, said. It’s “partly a problem in terms of big data and assessing data in new ways using all of the currently available resources.”

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Oncologists need new tools offered by AI to analyze and understand information in a patient’s electronic medical record, along with genome sequencing, along with other behavioral and environmental risk factors, Leach said.

“It’s clearly the future,” Leach said of AI.

Precision medicine is currently used to help treat the specific mutations present in a person’s tumor, rather than broadly treating cancers based on the organ of origin, Leach said.

Now precision medicine also can offer methods of tailoring prevention strategies for individuals based on their own risk factors. Offering an individualized approach to cancer prevention is “exactly the kind of bold problem that we hope that the new center will be able to tackle,” Leach said.

The new center also aims to examine questions related to the ethical use of machine models such as the way that the models may be biased due to biases that may be present in the data they use, such as including more information from some groups of people than others. The center plans to create clear ethical guidelines for how to develop AI by involving stakeholders such as clinicians and patients.

The end goal is to “ensure equitable outcomes for all individuals, regardless of their background,” according to a news release announcing the new center’s launch.

The center’s role, at least initially, will be to “promote” and “facilitate” work that is already ongoing in different fields across Dartmouth’s campus, Hassanpour said. In addition, the center aims to pursue different funding sources including grants through the National Institutes of Health, as well as through private philanthropy and companies, he said.

The center aims to “be a hub for this research and collaboration,” he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.