How IBM Researchers are Advancing AIDS Treatment Through Machine Learning

Dr. Michal Rosen-Zvi is the Director of Healthcare Informatics at IBM Research. She also heads the Healthcare Informatics department at IBM Research in Israel with close to 40 researchers and healthcare informatics experts and developers.  In this interview, Dr. Michal, tells us how IBM is contributing to improving the quality of life of AIDS patients.

Tell us about your career history and experience leading healthcare research.

michalrosen-zvi2I hold a PhD in physics and completed my postdoctoral studies at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and the Hebrew University. I joined IBM towards the end of 2005 and has since led various projects in the area of machine learning and healthcare. Aside from teaching in various academic forums, I have published more than 35 peer-review papers, and serve as a Program Committee member and reviewer for leading machine learning, health informatics, and bioinformatics conferences and journals. I also co-chaired ten international workshops, including the 2015 Gothenburg workshop on the Pan-European roadmap towards future healthcare.

As a machine learning expert, I have led a number of multi-disciplinary projects in which physicians, data scientists, and experts from pharmaceutical companies join forces to analyze post-launch patient data.   These projects explored the value and insight that can be gained from the data of patients with HIV, epilepsy, diabetes, mental illness, cancer, and more.

The World Health Organization estimates 17 million people worldwide are currently being treated for AIDS. That’s more than ever before despite the fact that the number of people being infected with the virus has gone down. The secret is the treatment ‘cocktail’ that is helping AIDS patients live longer, and essentially increasing the population of AIDS patients over the years.

By offering smarter treatment options, we can help improve the quality of life for AIDS patients.

That is interesting. So can you tell us how IBM is offering this smarter treatment options?

Using machine learning, my team at IBM’s lab in Haifa, Israel is contributing to a significant breakthrough in AIDS treatment by predicting how long it will take for the virus to develop immunity to a specific cocktail.

Today, treatment for HIV patients involves a cocktail, a combination of medications that treat the person’s current viral load. These cocktails must be continuously updated as the virus changes and as the patient’s reactions to the treatment change over time.

The new technology is aimed at helping doctors provide AIDS patients with the optimal sequence of cocktails at every stage of the virus. This will be a significant improvement over how we manage and plan the patient’s treatments and care. This research is being done within the framework of an EU project, in which Israel collaborated with scientists from five EU countries.

What is the progress so far with this project?

Right now, the system analyzes clinical, laboratory and demographic data accumulated over the years from across Europe and Africa to predict the right combination of drugs that works for the maximum amount of time. These innovations are provided as a free tool that can help extend the lives of millions of people who are the victims of this terrible disease.

Our new research, now in advanced stages of development, is intended to help physicians understand when the virus is likely to change and the cocktail will no longer be effective for the current mutation of the virus. The significance of this development lies in its potential to greatly improve the planning and management of the treatment, and the ability to extend the patient’s life.

How do you see this innovation helping the treatment process in the future?

This development is expected to reduce patient suffering, to help the patient’s body cope more effectively with immune system failure, and save costly resources in the treatment process.

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