Transforming healthcare with artificial intelligence


Getting personal with the world’s first smart bandage

A mock screening session using the Selena+, which was developed to address the need for increased manpower to tackle diabetes and related eye diseases // Credit: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited (reproduced with permission)

A partnership that will leverage on Artificial Intelligence to drive the accelerated transfer of scientific ideas from bench to bedside was inked between SingHealth and SGInnovate in November last year.

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The three-year collaboration, which will bring together the clinical and research expertise of healthcare professionals with the technological and translational capabilities of industrial partners, will serve as a hothouse for the creation of ideas and technological solutions that could address several unmet clinical needs.

Not long back, Artificial Intelligence—commonly referred to as AI—was simply thought of as robots. However, the technology surrounding AI has since evolved at breakneck speed and the term now encompasses all machine processes that simulate human cognitive activity, including learning, memorising, reasoning, and decision-making. With the wide-reaching and significant impact of AI on various sectors and industries, it is a disruptive technology in every sense.  

The collaboration is an example of how the nation's healthcare and health science landscape could greatly benefit by embracing AI and similar deep technology platforms. “Globally, AI has penetrated many industries. In line with Singapore’s vision of becoming a world-class, technology-driven Smart Nation, this collaboration will accelerate the growth of healthcare in the innovation and technological space,” said Duke-NUS Associate Professor Daniel Ting, the director of the AI Programme at SingHealth.

Ting, who is also a consultant in the Surgical Retina Department at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), has been an avid advocate of AI adoption for the improvement of healthcare systems. Having joined Duke-NUS’ Khoo Scholars Programme in 2014, he won several competitive grants which have supported him on his journey to develop successful healthcare innovation projects, such as the Singapore Eye Lesion Analyser (SELENA+)—an AI-powered image reader used to analyse eye scans to identify signs of diabetic eye diseases.

Jointly developed by a research team from the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) and the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing, SELENA+ alleviates the manpower needed to tackle diabetes, which is currently the world’s fastest growing chronic disease. Recognising the need for healthcare to adapt and leverage the benefits of technology, Ting emphasised the urgency for AI adoption. “The digital revolution is upon us. If we do not keep up, as a small nation, we run the risk of being left behind, to the detriment of our future generations,” he said.

Benefits of partnership

Over the next three years, the partnership between SingHealth and SGInnovate will focus on three areas. Firstly, it will advance AI thought leadership in Singapore’s healthcare and innovation communities. Secondly, the partnership will provide start-ups with the resources and opportunities to create and grow products that will address gaps in healthcare delivery.

"While collaborations were established on a more ad hoc basis previously, we are now streamlining these processes. The partnership will allow us to create an AI Sandbox between the institution and the companies, and establish processes to move forward systematically."

Associate Professor Daniel Ting

There is also potential to reverse pitch. This happens when clinicians identify a problem and SGInnovate’s diverse network of companies and innovators develops a suitable technological solution to address the unmet clinical need.

“Any technological solution that is created can be further scaled to national or even international levels through SGInnovate’s network. Similarly, a technological solution created overseas may be brought to us, making us the first to try a certain new solution and test its feasibility and suitability within the Asian population,” said Ting.

Thirdly, the collaboration will support the growth of health innovation talent pool in Singapore. Ting believes that equipping the next generation of clinicians with the right skill sets and empowering them to become globally competitive will be essential.

To do this, SingHealth and SGInnovate will tap venture capitalists and multinational companies for on-the-job training opportunities for those with biomedical or Deep Tech expertise.

“Over the next three years, we are looking forward to exciting AI and digital innovations to come to fruition with this partnership,” commented Ting. “These innovations will ultimately benefit patient care — through the improvement of clinical outcomes, enhancement of patient experience and implementation of more cost-effective processes.”

Adapted by Sruthi Jagannathan from Transforming healthcare with artificial intelligence

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