Pentagon taps Google for A.I. project to help veterans battling cancer

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EXCLUSIVE  Google announced Wednesday it has been chosen by a sector of the Defense Department to assist with a new U.S. health system designed to help pathologists study and identify certain types of cancers suffered by military veterans.

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) tasked Google with crafting a specialized artificial-intelligence model of information that could be overlayed with augmented-reality microscopes. Google’s machine intelligence then helps doctors as they use the microscopes to map out the tumor, in an effort to determine its distinct makeup and cellular structure.

Vice president of the global public sector for Google Cloud Mike Daniels spoke with Fox News about the program. He said the innovations being rolled out could lead to exciting breakthroughs in cancer research, as well as general health care.

“Health care is critical to the military’s force readiness,” Daniels said during a phone interview. “More important than that, or equally important, is funding for certain cancer-related programs. The DHA (Defense Health Agency) spends $1.7 billion of its annual budget on cancer research.

“We are hoping by activating A.I. we are able to accomplish two outcomes,” Daniels continued. “One is, better patient outcomes with respect to diagnoses, and two is to create some efficiency to help these pathologists sift through the enormous amount of data they have. It’s an important practical application of A.I. at the point of care, to drive real-world outcomes that matter for our country.”

The program, also aimed at helping drive down medical costs, is focusing on both active-duty military members and veterans, to be implemented at DHA treatment facilities and Veterans Affairs hospitals across the U.S.

“How it happens is, there is a limited set of military hospitals and VA facilities that have augmented-reality microscopes,” Daniels explained. “We are deploying our already developed model onto those microscopes to literally be a virtual assistant for the pathologist, at the time when they are looking at these slides.”

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He added that the technology “identifies areas where they might want to look closer, because of an algorithm relay match. … Our responsibilities will include day-to-day program management, architecture, and technical implementation of that aspect.”

Aashima Gupta, the director of global health care solutions for Google Cloud, also spoke with Fox News about the undertaking. She said the level of relief the program will provide practicing pathologists cannot be understated.

The program will lighten pathologists’ workloads by lessening the number of hours they must spend on such dense material, freeing them to do a deeper dive into the other aspects of their advanced research, while also expediting the publishing of their findings, Gupta said.

“Looking through a pathologist’s microscope and examining the tumor in a patient, that’s the gold standard today,” she said. “They look through the microscope and look into the tissue of the tumor. Looking at the tissue has a profound impact on most of the treatment decisions, but the task is very laborious today and pretty burdensome.

“When they’re looking and analyzing tissue, small cells need to be noted and this can be used to determine the stage of the cancer,” she continued. “Our hope is to limit the unidentified data by bringing this technology into the clinical workflow so that while the pathologist is doing that examination, the model overlays and identifies the areas where it may need more focus. Doctors can tell if there are certain areas where they can go deeper, or if certain segments need more attention than others.”

Daniels said the world is fast approaching the perfect conditions for a substantial leap forward in terms of machine learning. He claimed society has been inching close to the day when this kind of A.I-related research will yield myriad practical applications that could end up trickling down to the public for mass-use, not unlike many discoveries of the Pentagon’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) unit.

“We’ve just invested a ton of research and development (R&D) dollars into pathology specifically and this model is one result of that – combined with the fact that we are a pioneer in artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Daniels said. “Now, because of the maturity of the technology and our cutting edge A.I. – coupled with our deep investment in pathology, it’s finally at the right intersection to try to go out and practically apply this at the point of care. Which is to me, the breakthrough – a sort of 'Aha! moment' associated with this project.”

He added, “To the extent that we are able to affect military readiness, to drive better outcomes for our service members and veterans – along with allowing DHA to redeploy funds to other cutting edge research areas – if we can do that, we’ve made an enormous impact not just medically, but for the country, We are very honored to be part of this project as we try to contribute to the DOD – and frankly to the entire nation in this way.”

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Initially, the program will focus on “targeted cancers,” including breast, colon and prostate cancer, cervical dysplasia and lymph node metastasis.

However, from a technological perspective, the project could expand to include other types of cancers in the future and may also have the potential to yield new artificial intelligence methods, which could be used to seek knowledge outside the initiative’s original focus.

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