Research alliance works with parliamentary caucus to garner support for AI in health research

Veronica Silva
May 23, 2018

Research Canada, an alliance of health research stakeholders, has briefed Parliament on the potential benefits of applying artificial intelligence and machine learning in healthcare. The Canada-wide group representing academia, industry and the charity sector outlined to the Parliamentary Health Research Caucus several research projects to “raise awareness among parliamentarians about the social and economics benefits of health research and help innovation,” says Deborah Gordon-El-Bihbety, president and CEO of Research Canada.

The May 1 discussions focused on AI and machine learning in mental health, rehabilitation, solving genetic and genomic challenges through precision medicine; and improving health and patient care.Research Canada said the event featured experts, scientists and innovators who are “employing AI techniques to improve survival outcomes among patients.”

The event and several more similar events that Research Canada organizes every year also help orient lawmakers about what it takes to create a more innovative nation, which means that “you need a very well-endowed health research enterprise that’s well-funded (and) sustainable with predictable funding.” Along with funding, Gordon-El-Bihbety says stakeholders in the so-called health innovation continuum also need to be assured that they are supported by the right policies that bring research to the marketplace.

“We make sure that they (policymakers) understand that it is not just a matter of investing in fundamental research. You have to do that (but) you also need to ensure you’ve got the right policies to attract and keep industries here because … we want to develop the research into therapeutics (and) diagnostic treatment. So it’s very important that they understand how we move from research to innovation,” adds Gordon-El-Bihbety.

Gordon-El-Bihbety adds that parliamentarians chose the topic of AI and machine learning in health research for the recent briefing.

John Oliver, Liberal MP for Oakville and chair of the Parliamentary Caucus tells R$ in an email reply why the caucus is interested in the topic: “Artificial Intelligence is an exciting field of study. When we mentioned the topic to some of our colleagues, everyone was interested to see what advancements were being made here in Canada in the health field when it comes to AI and machine learning.”

The Parliamentary Health Research Caucus is composed of MPs from the major political parties, including Conservative MP (for Sarnia-Lambton), Marilyn Gladu, NDP MP (for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing) and Carol Hughes as vice-chairs, and Senator Judith Seidman, Senate representative. Parliamentary Health Research Caucus events have been organized since 2009.

Oliver adds: “As an all-Party caucus, we’ve decided that our job is to showcase exemplary research talent that exists here at home. Many Parliamentarians don’t know the amazing work that is being done to further science and better health outcomes here in Canada. We bring the best and brightest Canadian researchers to Ottawa to showcase what Canada and our research institutes are working on, and are capable of. Our hope is that MPs and Senators take what they’ve learned and apply it to their day to day work.”

Gordon-El-Bihbety adds that the fact that the parliamentary caucus asked for AI and machine learning means that they are current, and reflect the interests of the different party caucuses and constituents. Other topics that the caucus have previously asked for is Lyme disease and the current opioid crisis, for which Research Canada has an ongoing series.

Given this keen interest of parliamentarians in AI and machine learning in health research, Gordon-El-Bihbety says it could be one of several existing horizontal issues that Research Canada will continue to pursue, the other issues being mental health and medical device technologies.

“The Parliamentary Health Research Caucus helps to provide a more in-depth understanding to parliamentarians of these areas of research … We are beginning to effect change around a more comprehensive and integrated approach to research and innovation. That’s what we are trying to do because we've got to stop the one-offing policies," she adds. "We have to have the right regulatory regime, the right venture capital funds, the right investments in fundamental science in all areas ...What we’re doing in the Parliamentary Health Research Caucus is educating parliamentarians on that whole system.”


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