NTU Singapore opens two new AI-driven research centres for early disease prediction


Nanyang Technological University Singapore’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine has launched two new research centres that will leverage AI and data analytics to detect diseases.

The Centre for Biomedical Informatics, which was opened late last week, seeks to develop “super algorithms” that predict and personalise the treatment of various diseases. It will support LKCMedicine’s five flagship research programmes: population health, respiratory medicine and infectious disease, skin diseases and wound repair, neuroscience and mental health, as well as nutrition, metabolism and health.

Meanwhile, the Dementia Research Centre was inaugurated on Monday. The centre will work on a five-year longitudinal study to shed light on Asian dementia, as well as develop AI-powered diagnostic solutions to accurately predict or assess dementia progression.

With state-of-the-art equipment and the expertise of 15 researchers, the Centre for Biomedical Informatics will “identify trends, patterns, and anomalies in data to derive insights that will help researchers and clinicians make better-informed decisions,” resulting in the potential discovery and development of new powerful diagnostic and treatment methods for diseases, including mental disorders.

Another aim of the centre is to advance biomedical research by doing biomedical data analytics for the university’s scientific community. It plans to organise workshops and courses to help raise the biomedical informatics capabilities of Singaporean medical researchers.

Meanwhile, for LKCMedicine Dean and professor Joseph Sung, NTU’s initiative to open a Dementia Research Centre is “very timely as the global population continues to age”. The number of people with dementia worldwide is expected to double by 2050 from around 55 million at present, according to the World Health Organization. NTU Singapore noted from various studies that the mental condition affects western and Asian populations differently.

“Given that most of existing dementia literature is built on the western population, it is worthwhile for the university, led by its medical school, to focus on how dementia affects the Asian population and develop strategies that are tailored for this group. These findings could contribute to the national healthcare policy on dementia and the health economics of dementia,” he said.

Among ongoing projects of the Centre for Biomedical Informatics is a collaboration with the Institute of Mental Health and the Auckland University of Technology to develop machine learning methods to better detect and predict mental illnesses in at-risk youths.

They will analyse various datasets by applying advanced neural networks – a machine learning technique – which could lead to discoveries of new biomarkers and risk factors for screening mental health states. These discoveries would further lead to the development of super algorithms for predicting people who are at risk of mental disorders. It would also facilitate the development of personalised modelling to better recognise individual factors that trigger mental illnesses.

The centre has also been working on projects in the area of cancer treatment. So far, they have produced a breast cancer biomarker associated with prognosis, which has become its basis for developing new therapeutic strategies for discovering drugs capable of reversing biomarker expression patterns.

Concurrently, the Dementia Research Centre is conducting its Biomarker and Cognitive Impairment Study, which seeks to explore the inner working of the brain of patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Among such patients, the risk of developing dementia increases between 10%-15% each year, and that is why the centre is focusing on MCI to facilitate early detection and intervention, according to Director Nagaendran Kandiah. The centre is currently recruiting about 1,5000 Singaporean patients with MCI aged 30-95 for the five-year study.

Explaining what they intend to do at the Centre for Biomedical Informatics, Wilson Goh, its co-director, said: “[W]e are making sense of huge volumes of biological data. We want to work towards achieving the three ‘Ps’ in clinical application: prediction, prevention, and personalisation. By building biologically informed models through data analysis and super algorithms, we could create insights that are personalised for the patient. Such models could enable early and accurate detection and prevention of chronic diseases and acute medical emergencies”.

Commenting on the launch of the Dementia Research Centre, NTU President and professor Subra Suresh said: “The Dementia Research Centre promises to offer us new avenues for developing a better understanding of neurodegenerative diseases. The research from this Centre will also point to potential pathways to ensure a healthier ageing population, and benefit NTU’s efforts in shaping the future of medicine, continuing to improve medical education, and transforming healthcare”.