S$35M research funding to leverage AI to reduce risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure in Singapore

Singapore, 22 March 2019 – AI Singapore (AISG) announced today that it will award up to S$35 million, through the AI in Health Grand Challenge, to three multidisciplinary teams to pioneer innovative AI solutions to lower the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure progression and complication development in Singapore.

The grant awards were presented by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport & Ministry of Communications and Information at the AI in Health Grand Challenge Grant Award Ceremony which was held on 12 March 2019 at the innovation 4.0 building within the National University of Singapore’s Kent Ridge campus.

AI in Health Grand Challenge
AISG’s Grand Challenge programme features a novel approach to multidisciplinary collaboration and translation from research to practice. The AI in Health Grand Challenge, which was first announced in June 2018, is part of the vision to develop frontier AI approaches to enhance primary care for health promotion, wellness maintenance and disease management in Singapore and the world.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other key stakeholders, AISG defined the problem statement for the AI in Health Grand Challenge – How can AI help primary care teams stop or slow disease progression and complication development in 3 “Highs” (or 3H) – Hyperglycaemia (diabetes), Hyperlipidaemia (high cholesterol), and Hypertension (high blood pressure) patients by 20% in 5 years?

Together, these represent the top three chronic diseases in the republic, and the Ministry of Health has estimated that about 1.5 million residents are expected to have these chronic illnesses by 2020, up from 1.2 million in 2010. Some major complications for 3H include cardiovascular disease, renal failure, and eye and foot complications. 1 out of 3 deaths in Singapore (2016) is due to cardiovascular disease. If 3H complications are not reduced, it will adversely impact the health and lives of many Singaporeans and severely overburden our healthcare system. Hence, for 3H patients, there needs to be a strong focus on preventing the onset of the chronic conditions, early diagnosis and good control, and preventing the development of complications. This is most holistically and cost-effectively done in primary healthcare.

AISG received 11 quality research proposals from multidisciplinary teams in response to the AI in Health Grand Challenge grant call. The teams comprise technical Principal Investigators (PIs) and Co-PIs from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star); Clinical Co-PIs from National University Health System (NUHS), National Healthcare Group (NHG) and Singapore Health Service (SingHealth). Most of the proposals also involve local and international collaborators.

AISG, together with an International Review Panel, selected three projects to be awarded Stage 1 funding:

  • Jarvis-DHL: Transforming Chronic Care for Diabetes, Hypertension and Hyperlipidaemia with AI’ (by NUS Institute of Data Science, NUS School of Computing, SingHealth and its polyclinic network, HSRC, SNEC, NHCS, Duke-NUS) – The proposal features an AI system which facilitates the practice of evidence-based personalised care and shared-decision making by primary care physicians. It will also empower patients to take ownership of their healthcare journey beyond the clinical visits through the use of technologies for patient education and self-care.
  • Explainable AI as a Service for Community Healthcare’ (by NUS and NUHS) – The proposal features an end-to-end system to enable healthcare institutions cope with the increasing healthcare demands and shrinking manpower resources. With FoodLg, the general public can benefit from its automated food and nutrient intake logging, analysis and coaching. With MEDDi, chronic disease patients can expect fewer trips to hospitals as some of the healthcare services can be transferred to polyclinics and eventually home. With PANDA, doctors can use AI intuitively through their AI as a service and benefit from the rigour in analytics required of healthcare e.g. in precision medicine.
  • An End-to-End Adaptive AI-Assisted 3H Care (A3C) System’ (by NTU, SMU, NHG and its member Institutions Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and Woodlands Health Campus (WHC)) – The proposal covers both the assessment and intervention for 3H patients. The system periodically assesses the status of 3H patients, as well as identifies pre-3H persons based on early behavioural patterns, health symptoms and other non-medical factors, enabling early interventions to slow down the progression of chronic diseases and reduce the severity of associated health complications. The proposed system will also be able to provide individual and group-based adaptive, long-term interventions through gamification.

“The transformative potential of AI is well-documented. And in areas such as healthcare, there is especially every reason for us to invest heavily in research, structures, and frontier technologies that support healthcare development. What we are doing for AI through levers such as the National Research Foundation, AI Singapore, and the Institutes of Higher Learning, all serve a very important role in developing our AI capabilities and growing our pipeline of AI talents that will not only benefit our healthcare sector, but also the broader economy at large,” said Dr Janil Puthucheary.

“AI has already taken a strong foothold in healthcare in recent years, and is making an impact in radiology, pathology, pharma and other areas. At AISG, we have tasked ourselves to leverage the growing strength of this technology and enable multidisciplinary teams to address a national health challenge. This will hopefully bring us a step closer to enhanced healthcare delivery for the betterment of our population.” said Professor Ho Teck Hua, Executive Chairman of AI Singapore.

“AI has a strong potential to improve health and contribute to the transformation of healthcare delivery. However, its successful deployment and acceptance in the healthcare system will depend on new modes of collaborative working which involve doctors, care teams and AI solutions. Our aspiration is that the AISG Health Grand Challenge, would catalyse the development of new care delivery approaches which could contribute to better outcomes, patient- and health professional satisfaction, and greater cost-effectiveness.” said Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Executive Director of MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT). Professor Tan acts as advisor to AISG in the AI in Health Grand Challenge and is one of the competition’s judges.

As part of the collaboration between AISG and MOHT, MOHT has helped to design the grant call and evaluate the applications. As the challenge progresses, MOHT will identify promising approaches and solutions from the research for further development and potential scaling. This is in line with its objective to work with healthcare and industry partners to develop system-level solutions, through leveraging on key enablers such as data, AI and technology.

Each team will be awarded up to S$5 million to work on their project for the next two years. After a mid-term evaluation, a team will be selected to complete the AI in Health Grand Challenge based on its capability in delivering a national solution. This final team will receive further funding of up to S$20 million for another three years.

Apart from the AI in Health Grand Challenge, AISG is looking to define similar Grand Challenge programs in other areas, such as education or finance, to motivate researchers to come up with unique solutions that will have an impact in Singapore.

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