An update on our AI for Health program

a health worker sits on a bed

We launched our AI for Health program in January to use artificial intelligence (AI) and data to help improve the health of people and communities worldwide. Shortly thereafter, Covid-19 hit us head on and became a global health pandemic that upended the lives of people, communities and economies around the world. Recognizing the global impact of this disease, we mobilized AI for Health in April to focus on helping those on the front lines of Covid-19 research.

Early on, we had no idea the tenacity and duration of the disease. But, as of the time of writing, there have been more than 50 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, and more than 1.25 million deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization. Despite the ongoing efforts of scientists, researchers and policymakers, Covid-19 continues to change and shift the world as we know it.

The Covid-19 crisis has made it painfully clear that health transcends every border, impacting every person on the planet. As such, we want to empower researchers, nonprofits and policymakers with resources including Azure High Performance Computing, Power BI analytics and open datasets from GitHub. Non-profits and health care have less than 5% of global AI resources, so we have made our top data scientists and researchers available to support those on the front lines. Since April, through AI for Health, we’ve awarded over 150 grants to Covid-19 projects around the world.

Our grantees and partners have shared access to Microsoft’s AI technology, and these resources have accelerated the progress made in their research. With large-scale computing and open data, what used to take months can now be done in a matter of days. The rapid progress means researchers can more quickly identify potential solutions to combat Covid-19 and provide timely information to policymakers for data-driven decisions that protect communities, cities and regions. We are proud to support the work that is being done to fight this disease and remain committed in our support.

covid pie chart AI for Health Covid-19 response by the numbers

Through our program, we have seen that 39% of grantee projects are focused on treatment and diagnostics, including UCB and University of California, Riverside. Meanwhile, grantees focused on data and insights, including IHME, Washington State Department of Health and University of Notre Dame, made up 31% of the grants. Some 14% of the projects, such as Foldi[email protected], were focused on basic scientific research. The remaining projects, including grantees such as Duke University, were focused on allocation of resources (8%) and dissemination of accurate information (8%) from grantees such as Take.

Highlights from AI for Health Covid-19 response grantees include:

  • A grassroots employee volunteer effort at Belgian biopharmaceutical company UCB has identified 150 new molecules that could potentially counteract replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and aid in drug therapies as part of the Covid-19 Moonshot initiative.
  • Harnessing GPU-enabled cloud resources, UC Riverside researchers utilize quantum-based methods to more accurately predict the effectiveness of proposed Covid-19 inhibitors. This is one of several Covid-19 projects underway.
  • IHME, a global health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine, forecasts the Covid-19 pandemic, helping governors, hospital administrators and vaccine makers mobilize resources.
  • Organizations such as Washington State’s Department of Health and the Governor’s office are creating Covid-19 data dashboards to track the disease.
  • University of Notre Dame librarians have created a new way to undertake research by enabling access to curated sets of research literature in the cloud that can also be taken offline for analysis when students and researchers are not on campus due to lockdowns.
  • [email protected], a distributed computing project at Washington University in St. Louis, is using AI to better understand the relationship between proteins and diseases with a goal of accelerating new therapeutics, including for Covid-19.
  • Professor Amanda Randles at Duke University is using the power of Azure to conduct hundreds of millions of simulations required to help more patients have access to critical ventilators.
  • Take, the Brazilian leader in chatbots and the smart contacts market, developed a bot to bring official and credible information to the public and connect potential patients to medical teams to avoid overloading Brazilian hospitals.

We also have incredible partnerships with top organizations that extend our Covid-19 efforts, such as:

  • Partnering with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) High Performance Computing Consortium to support researchers and academia.
  • Working with Brown University’s School of Public Health and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard to visualize a common set of measures on testing and risk levels to help everyone know where we are with the pandemic and help policymakers guide their response. This includes a State Testing Calculator that supports policymakers’ ability to create more nuanced testing and opening strategies while protecting high-risk populations.
  • Joining University of Oxford and their Government Response Tracker initiative to track and compare government and policy responses to address Covid-19 around the world.
  • Being a founding member of The Trinity Challenge, a coalition of private, academic and social organizations using data and advanced analytics to prevent the next pandemic.

Lastly, by using publicly available information from partners such as USAFacts, we have created a number of interactive visualizations to provide transparency into Covid-19 trends globally.

We also created a unique measure called Progress to Zero to help everyone understand, in simple terms, our progress in reducing Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Covid Power BI image

In the U.S., we’ve updated the dashboard to show Covid-19 risk levels by congressional districts to help policymakers understand the progress and actions they need to take against the disease.

Our partners and grantees make progress against Covid-19 every day, but there is still much to do to fight the disease. The great work being done by our partners and grantees emboldens us to continue working tirelessly against Covid-19, while also supporting and helping those on the front lines. We are humbled by their incredible efforts and remain committed to supporting researchers and policymakers around the world as they tackle this terrible disease.

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