A new, artificial intelligence-guided point of care ultrasound imaging platform is under development by Dr. Ilker Hacihaliloglu at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Housed at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, this exciting new platform is one of 18 new research projects funded by the province to improve the lives of British Columbians through the BC Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF).

Dr. Ilker Hacihaliloglu’s research is focused on developing innovative machine learning methods for processing various medical image data. One of his main research goals is to drive innovation in artificial intelligence (AI) for use in clinical settings. With a long-standing track record of working collaboratively with clinicians, his research aims to reduce the gap between engineering and clinical research to bring technologies from the bench to the bedside.

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) account for 71% of all deaths worldwide. NCDs refer to conditions that are not mainly caused by an acute infection, such as stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung illnesses, and usually result in long-term health consequences. Within the next two decades, the global economic burden of NCDs is expected to be US $47 trillion.

“People with chronic NCDs often face several challenges in accessing healthcare, resulting in an increased risk of mortality. Affordable, available and accessible healthcare is needed to address the ever-increasing burden of NCDs,” says Dr. Hacihaliloglu. “To provide a solution for this unmet need, we are proposing a more modular, responsive and decentralized imaging platform based on point of care ultrasound (POCUS). The deployment of artificial intelligence methods into the imaging infrastructure will result in improved, decentralized patient care.”

The project will be tailored towards creating personalized screening at the community level, especially for those with a higher risk of disease. By providing accessible disease monitoring, improving treatment through early detection and identification of high-risk groups, and promoting patient-specific treatment strategies, this new platform will help slow and prevent disease development.

“I am grateful for the support from the provincial government,” says Dr. Hacihaliloglu. “This ultrasound imaging platform will leverage new AI technologies that will make healthcare more accessible and equitable for all.”

Overall, reducing complications from NCDs will have a positive effect on the health and well-being of Canadians and improve their quality of life. New fundamental and translational knowledge generated from this project with the help of AI-integrated ultrasound equipment will not only create effective therapies for Canadians affected by NCDs but also result in cost savings in medication, healthcare costs and loss of income.

Specifically, the outcomes of this project will allow UBC to continue to expand and strengthen British Columbia’s infrastructure and human resources to support research and technology development aimed at improving the health of BC residents. The research activities will provide Canada with a competitive edge in the booming frontiers of decentralized healthcare using POCUS imaging. Furthermore, the infrastructure will prepare a diverse team of highly qualified personnel, including women and members of underrepresented groups, to tackle complex problems in an interdisciplinary environment. The trained personnel will be able to apply for data science, machine learning, and deep learning jobs currently sought by BC and Canadian enterprises in these fields.

“Bettering the lives of people through research and innovation is an important part of our StrongerBC Economic Plan and a personal passion of mine,” says Brenda Bailey, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation. “The BCKDF gives students and researchers access to state-of-the-art equipment to develop technologies and innovate in areas like cancer treatments and the fight against climate change, helping improve the way we deliver the services that people rely on.”

The BCKDF matches funds provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation. In total, the government of BC is providing more than $4.3 million for projects at the University of British Columbia Vancouver and Okanagan campuses, the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University and Vancouver Island University in fields such as health, natural resources and technology. Since the creation of the BCKDF in 1998, the Province has invested more than $862 million for over 1,600 research projects.