Why 2021 Proved To Be A Significant Year For AI-Based Digital Healthcare

In this article, we discuss some important innovations and announcements from big tech companies in 2021.
Digital healthcare

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At the recently concluded NVIDIA GTC 2021 fall event, CEO Jensen Huang spoke extensively about the company’s efforts and innovation in the digital health care sector. While healthcare has always been an important and exciting field for AI and digital tech-based innovation, the pandemic has shone a better light on it.

In this article, we discuss some important innovations and announcements from big tech companies in 2021.

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NVIDIA’s Foray

Huang, in his keynote speech at the GTC 2021 event, said that business models would undergo revolution and Medical Device Software-as-a-Service solutions will replace medical instrument sales. He added, “The industry needs a software-defined imaging platform to build this future on, just as the auto industry needed a software-defined AV platform. Today we’re announcing NVIDIA Clara Holoscan, a software, programmable, imaging platform.”

The newly introduced Clara Holoscan is an AI computing platform for medical devices. It combines hardware systems for low-latency sensor and network connectivity, libraries for data processing and AI with core microservices. It can run streaming, imaging and other applications. The platform has been designed to speed up key workflow phases — high-speed I/O, image processing, data processing, physics processing, and rendering. These applications can be deployed fully in instruments, in the hospital data centre, or hybrid.

Over the years, NVIDIA has made major inroads in the healthcare industry. For instance, in April this year, the company collaborated with AstraZeneca and the University of Florida for drug discovery and patient care AI research projects. In addition, in 2018, NVIDIA had launched an AI-based virtual medical imaging platform called Clara.

Alphabet’s Isomorphic Lab

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recently launched Isomorphic Labs. This company, dedicated to drug discovery, will be headed by DeepMind founder and CEO Demis Hassabis. The company’s launch comes on the heels of the AlphaFold 2 release. Touted as a major breakthrough in biology and medical research, AlphaFold from DeepMind solved the 50-year-old grand challenge of protein folding by predicting its 3D structure accurately right up to atom-level from its amino acid sequence.

Hassabi wrote in the launch blog that this was the right time to dedicate focus and resources to biological and medical research, something that Isomorphic Labs endeavours to do. Isomorphic Labs is a commercial venture that reimagines the drug discovery process from the AI-first perspective — to model and understand fundamental mechanisms of life.

DeepMind & AlphaFold

In July, Alphabet-owned research lab DeepMind made the AlphaFold 2.0 source code public. DeepMind hopes to offer easy access and better research opportunities in areas such as drug discovery.

The protein folding problem has been a major challenge among the research community. DeepMind first began working on it in 2016. It took about two years to release AlphaFold 1.0. While it was novel, it was good enough for carrying out any groundbreaking research. In 2020, the research lab released AlphaFold 2.0. It is an upgraded version composed of a subnetworks system integrated into a single differentiable model based on pattern recognition.

A few months later, DeepMind introduced AlphaFold Multimeter, a model to predict the structure of multi-chain protein complexes. It increases the accuracy of predicted multimeric interfaces and maintains high intra-chain accuracy.

Microsoft-Nuance Deal

Over the years, Microsoft has invested heavily in digital healthcare, and 2021 was no different. In one of the year’s biggest deals, Microsoft acquired Nuance, an AI platform for speech recognition at a staggering $16 billion. It is the second-largest deal in Microsoft’s history. Nuance’s tech powers Apple’s virtual assistant Siri and makes software for other healthcare and automotive sectors. Nuance’s major clinical speech recognition products include Dragon Ambient eXperience, Dragon Medical One, and PowerScribe One. All these SaaS offerings are built on Microsoft Azure.

Another major development in Microsoft’s digital health push came with its collaboration with AXA. The two companies have joined hands to build a digital healthcare platform that is open to all. This new platform will be built on the technology portfolio in Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare to derive patient insights without compromising patient privacy.

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Shraddha Goled
I am a technology journalist with AIM. I write stories focused on the AI landscape in India and around the world with a special interest in analysing its long term impact on individuals and societies. Reach out to me at shraddha.goled@analyticsindiamag.com.

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