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Machine learning platform helps enable early diagnosis of life-threatening infection in premature infants

Vector Institute and Ontario Tech University supporting two hospitals in predictive analytics to detect sepsis in infants through machine learning

Toronto – Today, the Vector Institute, an
independent, not-for-profit research institute focused on leading-edge machine
learning, announced the latest of its series of
Pathfinder Projects
to implement artificial intelligence (AI) in the health sector.

The fifth Pathfinder Project uses machine learning for early detection of sepsis in infants in the
neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition where bacteria
grows in the blood stream, resulting in a severe widespread inflammatory
response. In infants, it is one of the leading causes of long-term morbidity or
mortality globally.  

With support from the Vector Institute and led by Dr. Carolyn McGregor at Ontario Tech University, Artemis is a predictive analytics platform that applies machine
learning to help physicians with the critical care of newborns. Artemis is being developed in partnership with McMaster Children’s
Hospital and Southlake Regional Health Centre. Once fully
implemented, the Artemis system will monitor infants in NICUs, alerting
clinicians when sepsis develops before it would otherwise be clinically
apparent. Ultimately, Artemis will reduce mortality, morbidity and average
length of stay in NICUs.

“Early detection of sepsis in newborns has the
potential to save many lives,” says Dr. McGregor. “Artemis data can help NICUs
better manage the use of antibiotics and reduce the frequency of blood draws
from patients. Our research has also developed a new understanding of a number
of other conditions which will all contribute to better outcomes for these
fragile infants and their families.”

Premature babies have underdeveloped immune
systems making them acutely susceptible to infections, which can lead to sepsis.
Symptoms appear rapidly and unpredictably and can become fatal within hours. A
quarter of preterm infants will develop an episode of sepsis during their stay
in the NICU. 10 per cent of all cases are fatal.

“We’ve started Artemis with the very smallest
of patients,” adds Dr. Edward Pugh, clinical lead at McMaster Children’s
Hospital. “But this analytics platform has the potential to be rolled out
across the adult world and very much change the way that my colleagues and I
work.”

“As a community and regional hospital,
Southlake is passionate about the care of all our patients,” says Patrick
Clifford, Director of Research and Innovation at Southlake Regional Health
Centre. “The opportunity to collaborate on Artemis not only advances care for
our highly vulnerable neonates, but allows hospitals like Southlake to better
serve our tiniest of patients with leading edge care, closer to home.”

Pathfinder Projects are small-scale efforts
designed to produce results in 12 to 18 months to guide future research and
technology adoption. With technical and resource support from the Vector
Institute, projects bring together a multidisciplinary research team to tackle
an important health care problem or opportunity by using machine learning and
AI more broadly. Each project was chosen for its potential to help identify a
“path” through which world-class machine learning research translates into
widespread benefits for patients.

About
the Vector Institute

The Vector Institute is an independent,
not-for-profit corporation dedicated to advancing AI, excelling in machine and
deep learning. The Vector Institute’s vision is to drive excellence and
leadership in Canada’s knowledge, creation, and use of AI to foster economic
growth and improve the lives of Canadians.

The Vector Institute is
funded by the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada through the
Pan-Canadian AI Strategy administered by CIFAR, and industry sponsors from across the Canadian economy.

Predicting
sepsis in infants with machine learning

Behind the medical monitors in the neonatal
intensive care unit (NICU) at McMaster Children’s Hospital sits a small beige
box. It likely goes unnoticed by most visitors, yet its benign appearance belies
its role as a gateway to a powerful tool that could save the lives of the
hospital’s smallest patients.

“The box itself is very unexciting,” confirms
Dr. Edward Pugh, clinical lead at McMaster. “But it very much has the potential
to change the way that my colleagues and I work.”

The box in question is the bedside connection
point for Artemis, a cloud-based data collection platform that uses machine learning
technology to collect, store and analyze patient data. The system is currently
being pilot tested in two Ontario hospitals: Southlake Regional Health Centre
in Newmarket and McMaster in Hamilton. Running continuously in the background
of each hospital’s NICUs, the system sends and receives data at a volume equivalent to 1,000
tweets a second per infant for approximately 1,200 patients annually. 

With support from the Vector Institute, Ontario
Tech University researcher Dr. Carolyn McGregor, the project’s lead, along with
Dr. Pugh, Southlake and their teams have set up Artemis to use AI to constantly
monitor many streams of data and analyze changes in infant physiology.
Variations in indicators like heart rate or breathing are signs a child is
dealing with an infection. Should such signs occur, Artemis will alert
physicians who will interpret the data and decide next steps.

“One of our main contributions is defining the
patterns of other conditions that will nevertheless make a baby unstable in
similar ways,” says Dr. McGregor. “By accurately identifying sepsis and other
events that make a baby unstable, we will be able to minimize unnecessary
antibiotics and investigations. Minimizing interventions in the NICU can
improve the long-term outcome of these fragile infants and decrease the distress
and burden on their families.”

Sepsis is one of the most common and devastating
conditions preterm and ill term infants can develop says Dr. McGregor. It occurs
when the natural chemicals that the body produces to ward off infections fall
out of balance. The underdeveloped immune systems of premature babies make them
particularly vulnerable — a quarter of preterm infants develop sepsis.
“Symptoms appear rapidly and unpredictably and can be fatal within a few
hours,” she says, noting that 10 per cent of cases are fatal.

McMaster is home to Ontario’s largest NICU,
where babies from just 350 grams to as large as eight kilograms are cared for.
“We’ll have babies who will stay with us for up to a year of life,” notes Dr.
Pugh. “You don’t see that in many neonatal intensive cares.” The volume, acuity
and wide variety of patient conditions seen across McMaster and a large
community hospital like Southlake, make them ideal locations to pilot Artemis
in the field.

Studies will continue through 2020. Once fully
implemented, the researchers hope to expand Artemis beyond checking for sepsis
and outside of the NICU. “We’re small footprint place working with the tiniest
of patients,” says Dr. Pugh, “but we have huge potential for a large impact.”

Additional
Pathfinder Projects

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Toronto AI is a social and collaborative hub to unite AI innovators of Toronto and surrounding areas. We explore AI technologies in digital art and music, healthcare, marketing, fintech, vr, robotics and more. Toronto AI was founded by Dave MacDonald and Patrick O'Mara.