No longer science fiction: Artificial intelligence is making its way into interventional radiology

AI, noun: The capacity of computers or other machines to exhibit or simulate intelligent behavior; the field of study related to it. Abbreviated AI.

A computer that can simulate intelligence may still sound like science fiction, but scientists around the world are looking for ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their daily lives. For a group of user interface researchers, the goal is to help healthcare on two fronts: challenges for staff and limiting unnecessary risks for healthcare professionals.

Led by interventional radiologist Sandeep Laroia, MD, the group is developing a mechanical device that could supplement staff by using AI for simple interventional radiology (IR) procedures. Laroia says they’ve seen promising results so far, which earned the team a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Phase I grant.

Receiving the grant not only demonstrates strong national support for the project, but also makes the team eligible for a Phase II grant from the foundation, which can provide the project with up to $1.5 million in funding.

Sandeep Laroia, MD, interventional radiologist

Protecting professionals, serving patients

Interventional radiologists like Laroia diagnose and treat patients using minimally invasive technologies and techniques — catheters, guidewires and several other devices — with radiologic imaging.

The team develops a sophisticated, complex algorithm that allows a mechanism to act logically. The ideal device, LaRoya says, would use logic based on doctors’ reasoning to determine how to treat a patient with a simple disease.

“So the idea is for a device to do simpler medical tasks without involving me or another team member, so we can focus on more complex tasks,” says LaRoya.

He used the example of a simple IR procedure to treat ascites, a condition in which excess fluid accumulates around the abdominal spaces. Patients may come in for treatment every week or sometimes even twice a week for as long as the condition persists.

“Maybe the device does the procedure on its own, or maybe I start the procedure and it alerts me when it’s done,” says LaRoya.

While this could certainly add to the IR team at a time when healthcare is facing ongoing staff shortages; The team’s AI device can also protect healthcare professionals by reducing unnecessary risks.

“We need that human healing touch, but it’s getting more and more complicated to get providers to the patient for a variety of reasons,” LaRoya says. “In a pandemic, for example, we want to limit exposure so we can keep ourselves and the patient healthy, for the sake of protecting our staff, but also because we need to be there for our patients.”

Sandeep LaRoya, Ph.D

Providing care in your neighborhood

Laroia also wants patients to know that this technology can also benefit them, especially those who live in more rural areas.

“Sometimes people travel several hours to have simple procedures done. So the question is, how can we decentralize some of these treatments so they’re more readily available and not just in the more urban areas?” LaRoya says.

Laroia says there’s the potential for an AI device to be monitored or even operated remotely by a doctor like Laroia, meaning they could provide care from wherever they are.

“One of the challenges we continue to face is bringing advanced treatments to patients,” he says. “We’re looking for ways to still deliver our high-quality care, but in patients’ neighborhoods.”

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