Microsoft has announced a quartet of new initiatives focusing on using artificial intelligence in healthcare. The company says its researchers are effectively working to “solve” cancer, deploying machine learning techniques for tasks like analyzing tumors and designing new medication regimes. Another projects wants to construct detailed simulations of how cancer develops in different patients’ bodies, while one particularly ambitious project — which Microsoft is calling its “moonshot” effort — aims to create biological cells that are programmable like computers.
Now, creating cells designed to fight cancer is obviously an ambitious task (if it’s even possible) and Microsoft is not offering much detail about this particular project. However, personalizing medicine using AI is a much more attainable — and hopefully effective — goal. Cancer is notoriously varied in how it attacks individuals, and the drugs used to target tumors are just as diverse, with hundreds of different combinations available. Microsoft’s Project Hanover aims to help doctors narrow their search for the right drug regime, sifting through medical papers to suggest the most effective treatments. IBM is working on a similar project, using 600,000 medical and 1.5 million patient records to explore better cancer treatments.
Another initiative from Microsoft wants to apply AI to radiology, using machine vision tools to analyze CT scans of tumors. Again, Microsoft isn’t the only tech company looking into this, with Google’s DeepMind exploring similar projects in the UK. DeepMind researchers are currently working with University College Hospital to develop a tool to direct radiation treatments for head and neck cancers, and are also looking into early detection systems for eye diseases. So although Microsoft may be pouring new resources into AI and healthcare, it’s certainly not the only player in this game.