UF awarded $1 million for AI research, project to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s underway

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Published: Dec. 15, 2020 at 8:05 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - The University of Florida is making a push to become a national leader in Artificial Intelligence research.

The University of Florida has awarded 20 faculty teams $50,000 each from UF Research’s Artificial Intelligence Research Catalyst Fund to pursue a range of AI-related projects.

Out of more than 130 proposals from faculty teams across UF, Professor Juan Claudio Nino and Professor Marcelo Febo’s proposal to use AI for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease was one of the 20 chosen.

The project’s Principle Investigator, Prof. Nino, is a professor of materials science and engineering. He has partnered with Prof. Febo, an associate professor in psychiatry and neuroscience.

“We [now] have access to much more powerful computers and that allows us to look at the massive database that we have ... from more than decade or so ... and it allows us to look at that comprehensively,” Nino said.

“We are trying to detect some sort of signature of disease, so this is many magnitudes more efficient,” Febo said.

“Even if we already know that the patient has one of these diseases, we can track how treatment is going or how the brain connectivity is changing as the disease progresses.” Nino added.

They will be using images of the brain to create maps that show relationships between different parts of the brain. From there, they will make algorithms to track patterns in those relationships and how they are affected with the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease-- which will help detect early signs of the disease. The addition of AI methods brings that research to the next level.

“Machine learning and AI algorithms can actually tell us things we cannot do ourselves-- they can extract features--if you think of imaging- and recognize that a specific region of the image is changing that we cannot do with our own eyes,” Nino said.

Another benefit of the addition of AI. is that they will be able to work with existing data.

“[The addition of AI] means more accuracy and more ability to predict -- which is something we all want to do with our data— try to model something and say ‘well this will help us predict the course of the disease’, ... so I think it is wonderful in terms of new avenues for research,” Febo said

They hope to find early signs of Alziehmers but also to uncover the benefits of AI.

“Within a year or so we will have preliminary data to show to the world that this is working,” Nino said. “That will allow us to seek additional funding to use this catalyst fund to promote additional research on a larger scale.”

“I see this is going to be involved in the lives of not only researchers and health care workers but also the public at large ... we will see this trickle down into the general public -- AI and all of the results that come out of this work,” Febo said.

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