Promising AI research receives funding boost from Arthritis Society Canada

Woman receiving physiotherapy for joint painResearchers are developing a machine learning tool that evaluates x-ray images for joint damage in Rheumatoid arthritis. (YuriArcursPeopleImages/Envato Elements)

By Communications  

Researchers at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry are using artificial intelligence to improve care for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – with an eye to faster, more accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment.

Led by Pingzhao Hu, PhD, associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Computational Approaches to Health Research, a new study is applying machine learning to identify and assess joint damage caused by RA. The project recently received a funding boost through the Arthritis Society Canada’s Ignite Research Grant program

Headshot of Pingzhao HuPingzhao Hu, PhD, assistant professor, Canada Research Chair in Computational Approaches to Health Research. (Mac Lai/Schulich Medicine & Dentistry)

About one in every 100 adult Canadians is living with RA, an inflammatory, autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues. As it can impact multiple joints, minimizing joint damage from RA is a core treatment goal – but assessing and tracking joint damage requires time and expertise that isn't always readily available.

To address this challenge, Hu and his team are developing a machine learning tool that evaluates x-ray images for joint damage, making it easier to identify, assess and track damage in individual patients. Using a continual learning model, they will be refining the tool so that it adapts and improves over time.

The research team is also creating a secure, web-based program that can be used to upload, score and report results, making the AI technology accessible to health-care professionals.

“By automating the assessment of joint damage in radiographs, health-care professionals can swiftly identify the presence and severity of the condition, enabling timely intervention and personalized treatment plans,” explained Hu. “This research has the potential to mitigate the progression of the disease, enhance long-term quality of life and improve overall outcomes for patients.”  

Hu says the funding from Arthritis Society Canada will propel these important research efforts forward. “This will accelerate our discoveries and contribute significantly to improving the lives of those affected by RA.”