9 April 2020
By Bryan Smyth
Irish scientists are leading the way in a ground-breaking research project which they hope will predict depression earlier in cancer patients via their smartphones and trusted medical markers and ultimately improve survivors’ quality of life and treatment aftercare.
As many as one in five cancer sufferers experience depression and mood change post diagnosis. Researchers in Waterford under the leadership of Clonakilty based Gary McManus have now teamed up with globally-renowned cancer hospitals and consultants and research colleagues in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Cyprus for the early intervention FAITH project, an initiative which may also have wider application outside of cancer care.
The €5 million, EU-funded initiative is designed to care for the mental health of patients post treatment and help them on their road to recovery, the research team headquartered at the Telecommunications, Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology say.
Together, they will apply the latest, secure artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning techniques to an interactive app on patients’ phones. FAITH will help to better model and predict disease and treatment pathways and intervene early if mental health supports are required.
Data sources such as a patient’s activity, outlook, sleep, appetite and voice tone are monitored, with additional data is gleaned through a series of questions asked through the FAITH monitoring system daily.
FAITH’s ‘AI Angel’ remotely analyses depression markers, predicting negative trends in their disease path, giving their healthcare providers advanced warnings and ultimately allowing for timely intervention. These markers are assessed in accordance with the traditional, tried and trusted 3M strategy for population health – Monitor, Measure and Manage.
To protect privacy of the individual, but still gain insights that are beneficial to the broader population, FAITH is based on federated machine learning, which makes it possible to build machine learning systems without direct access to personal treatment data.
Project Co-ordinator, Gary McManus of the Telecommunications, Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology, says it’s the most exciting healthcare project he has ever undertaken at the edge of city research hub. The Tipperary-born, married father of three has lived in Clonakilty, West Cork for several years.
“Central to the vision of the FAITH project is to measure population health deeply. We will monitor individuals on a continuous basis to cast a wide net over their health data. A key strength of FAITH is the involvement of eminent cancer hospitals and specialists in the consortium.
“We will work together to produce relevant, applicable cancer care related findings that can effectively leverage a big data framework using computational intelligence approaches and methodologies that can be used for long term cancer care health risk and symptom minimisation for patients.
“FAITH has trial sites in Madrid, Waterford and Lisbon. This isn’t research for the sake of research. FAITH is potentially life-changing,” he said.
The project will include invaluable input from two breast cancer hubs and one lung cancer specialist centre in Portugal, Philip O’Brien, Technical Co-ordinator, explained.
“The hospitals are very eager to get this project underway. They are very interested in AI and how to apply it in a myriad of health settings. Our key role in TSSG will be in technical coordination of the project. We will be responsible for driving the development of the AI models, as well as the deployment of the federated learning framework.
“FAITH will be an early warning system for doctors and allow them to be proactive instead of reactive. As soon as there is a negative shift in a patient’s mental wellbeing it triggers an alert.” he said.
Commenting on the significance of FAITH, Dr. Sasitharan Balasubramaniam, Director of Research at TSSG says: “Cancer and post cancer care will affect all of us during our lifetime. FAITH is a passion project for the team and one TSSG are delighted to be co-ordinating as we aim to work on more projects that will benefit the society of the future.”