Microsoft funds AI program to speed research, improve access to care

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A five-year, $40 million program funded by Microsoft will leverage artificial intelligence to accelerate medical research and to improve access to care for underserved populations.

The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant announced Wednesday that the new AI for Health program is part of its AI for Good initiative, a larger $165 million effort to “empower people and organizations working to create a positive impact on society that address the world's toughest issues.”

When it comes to healthcare, Microsoft says it wants to leverage AI to help solve “pressing issues” such as discovering the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, eliminating leprosy, detecting diabetic retinopathy, building an ecosystem for safely and securely sharing biomedical data.

Microsoft’s AI for Health program will focus on three areas—global health, health inequity and medical discovery—ensuring that nonprofits, academia and research organizations have access to technology, resources and technical experts.

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to solve some of humanity's greatest challenges, like improving the health of communities around the world,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, in a written statement. “Putting this powerful technology into the hands of experts tackling this problem can accelerate new solutions and improve access for underserved populations. That's why we created AI for Health.”

According to Microsoft, fewer than 5 percent of the world's AI professionals currently work in health and nonprofit organizations “It is crucial to provide these mission-driven researchers with the tools they need to accelerate and expand their work,” the company contends.

As part of the AI for Health program, Microsoft has announced several grantees including: BRAC, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems, Novartis Foundation, PATH and Seattle Children's Research Institute.

“Unlocking and sharing data is critical to discovering new ways to treat and ultimately cure cancer,” said Raphael Gottardo, scientific director of the Translational Data Science Integrated Research Center at Fred Hutchinson. “Working in close collaboration with Microsoft, we will be able to harness new advances in AI, machine learning and cloud computing to spur innovation, and open up new avenues for preventing and treating cancer and related diseases.”

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