A Calgary high-tech medical company is exploring the use of artificial intelligence to detect early signs of heart disease that can go unnoticed by doctors.
CardiAI is currently undertaking two separate heart-related projects: one using machine learning to scour extensive data provided by specialized monitors to spot potential problems, the other involving artificial intelligence to examine images taken of the heart.
This is just the latest in a growing number of high-tech ventures the company is involved in since its inception in 2018 by Calgary cardiologist Anmol Kapoor.
Today, the company employs about 150 experts in a host of medical and technology disciplines across Canada, with the use of AI to detect heart disease being the latest technological advancement.
For Kapoor, combining medicine and technology has been a long-held dream, ever since he completed his medical schooling in Russia and then later studied the management of information systems at the University of Lethbridge.
“My dream was always to combine technology into medicine,” said Kapoor.
“You have to push boundaries but innovation cannot happen in the comfort zone. You have to be uncomfortable to innovate.”
His decision to found CardiAI came from watching one of his patients suffering from a serious heart problem.
“He was struggling and could not even come to my office because he had such difficulty in breathing. Then he called and said: ‘I know you are trying to save me, but I’m only a burden on my family and the system. Please let me go.’”
Kapoor kept working to save the man but, eventually, the patient died.
“I thought: ‘I could keep doing the same thing to try and help these people, but they were falling through the cracks. There must be a better way to provide care, so a patient doesn’t have to come see me, get a requisition for the lab, make an appointment, drag themselves to the lab and then have to come back and see me.’
“Why does it have to be that way? Why can’t they do the blood test at home, for example? Those types of questions are what led me to start this company.”
CardiAI’s heart work was one of the many pilot projects supported by the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), which receives both provincial and federal funding and is based out of the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
“Amii started as a centre at the U of A 20 years ago thanks to investment by the province,” said CEO Cam Linke. “At the time, we were able to trap some of the top minds in the world in machine learning, an area which has now grown to become one of the most important technologies underlying so many industries in the world.”
Five years ago, the federal government provided additional funding, after picking Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto to be the three city pillars upon which a national AI strategy could be developed.
“We now invest in world-leading research and training and leverage that knowledge and expertise to create opportunities in industry for this technology to solve problems,” said Linke.
He added that the health system is a perfect venue for using artificial intelligence and machine learning because the amounts of data are huge and the numbers are so large, both in potential cost savings and improvements in the lives of so many people.
“We are making advances everywhere: on the molecular level to diagnostics — such as better ways to detect signs of heart disease — all the way to what things can we use to make the health-care system itself better,” he said.
Linke believes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new awareness to Canadians of the importance of data, thanks to nationwide daily briefings and regular release of detailed information on a wide range of areas, such as case numbers, vaccination rates and hospital admissions.
“The pandemic really brought close to home for everybody how important the health-care system is and seeing dashboards of data out there helped people to realize data isn’t this abstract thing but is very important and that it can help us improve the system overall,” he added.