Google awards $1m to University of Sydney to put AI into health

Clara Chow

Clara Chow

The Westmead Applied Research Centre has won Australia’s inaugural $1 million AI Impact Challenge for a translational digital health program that will track digital footprints to prevent heart attacks.

 has been awarded  Australia’s inaugural AI Impact Challenge prize, receiving $1 million and expert support to develop a customised digital health program powered by artificial intelligence (AI), aimed at reducing the risk of heart attack - the biggest cause of death globally.

The digital health program, initially centered around Western Sydney health services, will deliver tailored advice and nudges using machine learning to participants who have presented at hospital with chest pain, harnessing their digital footprint to reduce the risk of a heart attack.

By combining clinical and consumer-derived data, such as from mobile phone apps and wearables, with AI, it is believed the accuracy of risk assessment will be improved while creating more adaptive digital health solutions.

The prize, presented to Westmead Applied Research Centre (WARC) led by Professor  , was awarded  this morning by the Managing Director of Google in Australia, Melanie Silva and Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews.

to focus on translational research addressing chronic illness and their causes. This new customised digital health solution will be delivered as part of the

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said the award would add to the body of work over the longer term for the in becoming a global centre of excellence in innovation, healthcare, wellbeing and education, including the University’s second major campus comprising some 25,000 students by 2050.

"This support from Google recognises our pioneering work in this space," Dr Spence said.

"AI has the potential to transform health care globally - from crisis management to prevention - and we are delighted to be working with industry and with government to look at new ways of tackling society’s growing health burden."

Minister Andrews said: "This project is the perfect example of how technology, combined with human know-how, can deliver incredible real-world benefits. Digital healthcare will not only save lives and reduce costs, it also has the potential to grow the economy and create new jobs."

Managing Director Google Australia  Melanie Silva said: "We believe technology, including AI, can help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges, and we are pleased to support this innovative project using AI to make an impact and help improve health outcomes."

Professor Chow, who is a cardiologist at Westmead Hospital and the University of Sydney’s Westmead Clinical School as well as academic director of the WARC, said a focus on a scalable prevention program should make a difference to individuals’ lives and help address issues of increasing preventable chronic illness suffered by an aging population.

"Modifiable risk factors account for over 90 percent of the risk of heart attack worldwide," Professor Chow said.

"Chest pain is the second most common reason people present to emergency department in Australia and may be an early warning sign - early identification and monitoring could prevent patients returning to hospital suffering a heart attack but currently this is poorly done.

"AI-driven digital health interventions have the potential to be the game changer - as the technology would enable patients to be monitored while they go about their daily lives."

Graeme Loy, Chief Executive Western Sydney Local Health District, said: "Congratulations to WARC, Professor Chow and her team. This wonderful opportunity will help us to advance healthcare and change lives."

Participation is voluntary and will be offered as an option for patients who could benefit; personal information and health data protections are covered by Commonwealth and State legislation.

How will AI help prevent heart attacks

Digital health interventions and therapeutics, such as text messages and smartphone apps, have been the cornerstone of innovative research at WARC.

AI driven adaptive digital solutions connecting our health services could transform care for patients and populations because they could lead to earlier identification of at-risk individuals, enable better access prioritisation based on risk, and provide greater customisation of management and monitoring intensity based on individual risk.

Dr  Harry Klimis , a cardiologist and researcher at WARC, says: "AI could harness data to create digital health programs which allow greater efficiency in health care delivery." 

In addition to the funding from the foundation, Professor Chow said the fellowship aspect would be crucial: "We’re really excited about having the mentorship from a ’Googler’, which will really help us in translating this research into a deliverable program that has the greatest reach," she concluded.

The University of Sydney joined the NSW Government in a ceremony on the rooftop of the Central Acute Services Building at the heart of Westmead’s innovative health, education and research precinct.

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The University of Sydney is a lead partner in the new Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC) announced today by Senator the Hon. Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation.

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