Like any British Columbian even causally monitoring the health-care system amid the pandemic, Ilker Hacihaliloglu couldn’t help but take note of the overcrowding that’s unfolded at hospitals across the West Coast.
He sees a future in which that can be mitigated in part by a platform powered by artificial intelligence that’s set to get an injection of capital from the government.
“Nobody should lose their loved ones to preventable diseases,” said the assistant professor at UBC who serves in both the departments of radiology and medicine.
“For this to happen we need a decentralized, accessible and affordable health-care system in order to basically monitor chronic diseases [and] more frequently detect them in the earlier stages so that they are treatable.”
Hacihaliloglu – or “Professor H” as he is often called on campus – will be tapping fresh dollars from the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF) to help him and his colleagues build an AI-powered point-of-care imaging platform.
“This technology will also allow us to detect the diseases at an earlier stage, which makes them curable,” he said during a Monday announcement at UBC detailing where BCKDF funding was going.
“The knowledge and the fundamental technologies that we will develop during the project period [will] allow Canadians to reach a better health, reduce health-care costs associated with quality management, as well as reduce the overcrowding of hospitals, which we have seen during the COVID 19 pandemic.”
Victoria revealed 18 university projects across B.C. would be divvying up $4.3 million from the BCKDF. Most of the funding ($3.6 million) is being directed towards 13 projects at UBC’s campuses in Vancouver and the Okanagan.
Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University will also be tapping the BCKDF to support projects at those institutions.
Funding for the university projects is also being supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), a non-profit corporation backed by federal funding. Both the CFI and BCKDF work together to determine who gets funding.
Unlike the CFI, the BCKDF is not a non-profit corporation.
When asked by BIV to clarify who specifically within the provincial government determines project funding on behalf of the BCKDF, the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation said in a prepared statement the "ministry staff conducts due diligence to determine the strategic value of each project."
“It [BCKDF] really focuses on giving students and researchers access to the latest technology, tools and equipment that they need to drive innovation,” Innovation Minister Brenda Bailey said during Monday’s announcement at UBC campus.
“Over the last decade, the fund has helped create more than 1,800 jobs in this province as well as 66 spinoff companies and hundreds of patents and licensing agreements.”
Deborah Buszard, UBC’s interim president and vice-chancellor, said projects set to tap the funding include advances in quantum computing, improving fisheries managements, mitigating geological hazards and addressing wildlife conservation.