Combined PhD graduate uses the power of AI to bring care to those at risk

Image of Jaky Kueper
By Cam Buchan

UPDATE: Oct. 24, 2022 – Jaky Kueper has been awarded a Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal for academic excellence at the graduate level – one of three awarded to Western students this year.

Combining the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning with epidemiology, Jaky Kueper has taken everyday data captured by electronic health records to advance the use of AI in primary health care research and practice.

What’s more, today Kueper graduates with Western’s first combined PhD, bringing together studies in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry with Computer Science in the Faculty of Science.

Professional shot of Jaky Kueper

“It feels surreal. There were points where I thought, ‘I have no idea if or when I am going to graduate,’” she said. But the hard work has paid off. “Now I’m actually able to play with these interdisciplinary ideas, and do some very important work towards helping identify health challenges in patients and provide solutions for them using everyday data.”

Kueper, who also completed her Masters in Epidemiology from Schulich Medicine, became interested in the use of everyday data – specifically data created through digital means outside of traditional research settings, such as through electronic health records, watches, or smart phones. A central part of her thesis was done in collaboration with The Alliance for Healthier Communities, a health-care organization across Ontario that provides care through Community Health Centres (CHCs) to patients who face barriers to regular care.

Kueper combined techniques from AI and epidemiology to analyze their electronic health record data to provide the first large-scale overview of the population served by CHCs and to help predict when health or social problems may occur in their patients. The types of clinical tools that her work leads to will provide information to care providers so they can connect high-risk patients with preventative programs or develop more personalized treatments for their patients.

Outdoor shot of Jaky Kueper

The combined PhD was supervised by Dan Lizotte, PhD, who is jointly appointed to both Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Schulich Medicine and Computer Science in the Faculty of Science.

“Jaky’s PhD research was undertaken with the goal of creating actionable knowledge for primary care providers,” said Lizotte. “I am very proud of her achievements and look forward to the impact she will make in this field.”

Kueper is currently continuing her research at Western, furthering her work with the CHCs, while also acting as the first AI fellow with the College of Family Physicians of Canada. She is also in discussions with multiple universities and organizations to determine the best fit for her future.

“I’m looking forward to developing the work with the Alliance to identify people who are at high risk, and help develop solutions for the problems they face,” Kueper said. Wherever she goes, Kueper will use her skills to help people.

“I want to continue to integrate epidemiology with machine learning, and use everyday data to support people through research and development of these types of tools,” she said. “There are a lot of different avenues, but for me the biggest thing is to properly understand the data and truly help people.”