U of A scientists use AI to advance diabetes research


By Hiba Kamal-Choufi

Researchers at the University of Alberta are one step closer to finding a possible cure for Type 1 diabetes. The Alberta Diabetes Institute (ADI) is collaborating with the university’s department of computing science to develop an artificial intelligence-based system that can replace human technicians to target faster and safer sources of islet cells for people with Type 1 diabetes.

The new research focuses on using the patient's own cells to create insulin-producing cells, which can be transplanted back into the patient.

Dr. James Shapiro, a professor of surgery in the faculty of medicine and dentistry who is the creator of the Edmonton Protocol procedure, is leading the study and said he is confident that this approach will prove to be an effective way to treat diabetes.

"When you transplant those cells, taken from a patient's blood who has diabetes, into a mouse, you can reliably reverse diabetes in the mouse,” he explained.

University of Alberta researchers are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to advance diabetes research. (Courtesy of the University of Alberta)

University of Alberta researchers are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to advance diabetes research. (Courtesy of the University of Alberta)

According to the World Health Organization, there are 422 million people worldwide living with diabetes. In Canada, one in three Canadians has diabetes or prediabetes.

Shapiro's AI-based research is one of many projects at the U of A that are using precision health (PH) as a new approach to find treatments for diseases like diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's.

"The strengths at the University of Alberta in the health sciences, health research, and education are exceptional. Groups and researchers are already working on projects related to precision health," said Lawrence Richer, academic lead of the Precision Health Signature Area.

"A big opportunity and a real difference-maker we have in Alberta is the integrated health system. Working collaboratively, we can leverage the integrated system to help assure that promising discoveries will make it from the lab to the patient."

Shapiro’s research was funded by a Precision Health Seed Fund Award along with four other multidisciplinary, pan-faculty studies at the U of A. The projects cover different approaches to precision health, including precision diagnostics, precision therapeutics, and artificial intelligence applied to health.