KARACHI– Researchers at Aga Khan University and the University of Virginia collaborated on an innovative project, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, in order to assess a particularly complex disorder of the intestine, Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED).
EED; a neglected disease of poverty, is widespread among children in low-income countries such as Pakistan, where the population is widely exposed to contaminated water and poor sanitation system. EED hinders the gut’s ability to absorb essential nutrients compromising children’s growth potential, leaving them vulnerable to a range of diseases.
Dr. Sana Syed, an Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at the University of Virginia and Dr. Asad Ali, Associate Dean for Research at Aga Khan University, are now applying artificial intelligence, to analyze microscopic images of tissue, located deep inside the small intestine, to study and understand this disease better.
This initiative, funded through an Engineering in Medicine grant from the University of Virginia (UVa), will be conducted in collaboration with the Data Science Institute at UVa. The project involves computers, breaking down the size, shape and structure of images of the normal intestine’s cells into a matrix of numbers, continuous scanning of images will then alert the system regarding abnormal patterns.
Eventually, the computer will learn to compare and differ between images of healthy and affected intestines, at a cellular level, being able to identify the triggering predisposing factor. This knowledge will then be used to test nutritional and pharmacological interventions, leading to disease reduction.
The images of intestines affected by EED under study are provided by SEEM, a USD $13m multi-country grant, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is a multi-institutional partnership focused on EED.
Partners on the project include AKU, the University of Virginia, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Washington University. SEEM is co-led by Dr. Asad Ali, Associate Dean of Research at Aga Khan University and Dr. Sean R Moore at the University of Virginia.
Moreover, Dr. Syed will analyze images held in the University of Virginia’s pathology archives, as well as those provided by collaborators from the University of Zambia’s School of Medicine.
In the longer-term, Dr. Syed and Dr. Ali believe that such innovations could transform the way doctors diagnose EED. New and improved comprehensive set of screening biomarkers would be made, that would help future clinicians in diagnosing EED through a simple blood or urine test.
“EED is one of the drivers of chronic public health problems in the developing world such as malnutrition, stunting, and poor response to vaccines. Addressing EED will help us unsettle the vicious cycle of poverty triggering poor health, and poor health leading to poverty.” -Dr. Asad Ali.