Event summary, My City-Lab Talk Series, /

The latest meeting of the My City-Lab Talk Series “AI in Genomics: Delivering Personalised Medicine” took place on May 05th, 2020. The event was organised by Health First Europe, as a partner of My City-Lab project, to discuss how AI can contribute and support health care systems in the field of genomics to obtain personalised medicine.

Why is AI so important for personalised medicine?

AI has come a long way in healthcare, with many different applications, also linked to genomics. By identifying individuals’ phenotypes and genotypes health care professionals can offer personalised medicine, tailoring the right therapeutic strategy for the right person at the right time. AI provides a way for physicians to make diagnoses with greater accuracy when Electronic Health Records (EHR) is in place and interoperable, AI technology can use EHR data patterns creating a diagnosis system for physicians. An accurate diagnosis can then result in better, and more personalised, treatment.

As pointed out by the moderator Damien Gruson, the use of AI is increasing and contributing to the transformation of laboratory medicine and ultimately assisting the development of personalised treatments for a patient or group that are genetically alike. This sort of precision comes from pattern identification and predictions made by AI. As goes with all the uses of Artificial Intelligence, policymakers and technology developers shall take into consideration the important challenges coming with respect to data privacy and security, especially with data so sensitive as DNA. With such confidential information for the systems to process through, security must be at the utmost concern for AI producers and users. Along with security, data quality and quantity shall be considered to ensure the effectiveness of AI technology.

MEP Pilar del Castillo Vera (EPP, Spain), Co-chair of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Artificial Intelligence & Digital, highlighted the important role of AI and digital health especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, given their contribution in offering insights on the spread of the virus and delivering care to chronic patients. With respect to AI and personalised medicines, she added that AI shall be filled with standardized and good quality data in order to make these technologies work. In this regard, European Health Data Space, European Commission’s initiative, is intended to promote health-data exchange and support research on new preventive strategies and data-driven medicines.

AI is very much needed for advancing health research, but still, it is important to bring concrete AI solutions and AI-driven research closer to the patients. Jana Makedonska, from the European Commission (DG Research & Innovation), emphasised that, although AI for health research was rapidly advancing, it had not been broadly implemented for patients’ use. In this regard, the European Commission is committed to working with the Members States to bring innovation closer to the citizens while ensuring the privacy of their data. Commission´s President, Ursula Von der Leyen, announced in her political guidelines a coordinated European approach to the human and ethical implications of AI, which intends to promote data-driven systems, establishing requirements for the safe use of AI.

Ms Makedonska, also stressed that personalised medicine had been a top priority for a decade for EU policymakers working on innovation and health, as proven by two initiatives:

  • The 2018 initiative “+1 Million Genomes” were the EU Member States and the UK are expected to provide access to at least 1 million sequenced genomes in the EU by 2022. In order to provide better and more personalised treatments to patients.
  • The EU Health Data Space, which aims at making possible for citizens to access their health data across the EU, including the interoperability of Electronic Health Record Systems.

Additionally, the Commission has been working with horizon 2020 to create a COVID-19 data-sharing platform, combining genetic and epidemiological data, for the research community. This will ensure tailored treatments for patients and knowledge sharing for the scientific community.

Nicky Hekster, IBM expert in Big Data and AI, emphasised how AI can become a cornerstone for the reform of healthcare. Clinical data are published “every 30 seconds” and this medical literature is essential to improve medicine and help researchers in speeding up the data-reading processes. Mr Hekster also explained the concept of digital twins, a digital simulation of a living model, that continuously learns and updates itself from multiple sources to represent its counterpart real-time condition. In health care, this can be tailored to anticipate the response of a certain illness or drug in patients. But in order to guarantee democratic access and use of technology in health care settings, safety measures need to be implemented, and patients need to be placed in the centre of decisions.

Carrying on with the debate, Angel Martin, Chair of the MedTech Europe Working Group on AI, stressed how machine learning could save lives by helping to diagnose diseases more accurately and providing more reliable and quicker lab results. Despite the use of AI in healthcare is nothing new, scientific literature is growing attention, having 70% of research coming only from the past 5 years. Mr Martin further highlighted how AI could help to process massive amounts of data to provide a tailored treatment for each individual. However, the lack of data harmonisation between systems and areas of expertise is preventing us to use the full potential of AI. Other significant challenges are the lack of trust in AI due to concerns of privacy and ethics and the lack of digital literacy among health care workers. In this regard, promoting digital skills and training are needed to empower health care workers and ensure proper use of AI in health care settings. Furthermore, digital accountability must be guaranteed, and AI systems must be validated and checked by competent authorities.

AI has a great potential to be used in the field of health care, especially regarding personalised medicine, but in order to do so, data interoperability must be ensured. In addition to control mechanisms that ensure the safety of the data. The European Union has shown some ambition in this regard, but a clearer strategic vision and firmer plans for implementation are needed. Integrating innovation into care, building trust, developing skills and constructing policy frameworks that guarantee equitable access to new technologies in the field of health care need to be fostered by all EU Member States.  Finally, the EU must ensure legal and ethical questions centred on safeguarding patients and their rights. For Europe to success, it will have to find a new spirit of cooperation that can overcome the handicaps of the continent’s fragmented technological and legal landscape.

My City-Lab project – financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – aims to create two new primary care structures, called My City-Lab, integrating the innovation of laboratory medicine and mobile health. The scope of the project is to facilitate access to laboratory tests as part of an integrated and collaborative approach to ambulatory care of a chronically ill individual, as well as to contribute to the dynamic monitoring of patients with chronic diseases.