In the ever-evolving world of healthcare, the cost-effectiveness ratio is the rough landscape upon which the ball of progress rolls. A prominent healthcare leader, Alexandru Floares (Founder, and CEO of Artificial Intelligence Expert), describes this scenario in detail. He explains, “It is a landscape full of mountains and valleys. Mountains represent high costs and low efficacy on this terrain, whereas valleys represent low costs and high efficacy.” The pushing force behind the ball’s progress is the advancements in ICT (Information and Communication Technology). Now the “ball” is climbing a mountain of high costs and low efficiency, making it unaffordable to reach countries. However, the ascent is slower and harder than expected, owing to insufficient and fragmented ICT/AI tools and patient data. In addition, despite patient-centric goals, a lack of focus on “helping doctors help their patients” has resulted in physician burnout and medical errors.
Alexandru further explains, as the ball can only move from one valley to another by traversing a mountain, which means going up the mountain is unavoidable. It is a necessary stage, and the industry must remember to take into account the triad of patients, physicians, and businesses. While the first two are well understood, the third is crucial because solutions that are perfect for patients and physicians but unaffordable will not be adopted.
A Paradigm Shift
Alexandru clarifies the shift in healthcare in a simple way. The previous stable state of healthcare was dominated by anatomy, pathology, statistics, and disease detection by invasive methods, with surgery as the primary treatment. However, the rise of molecular biology, radiology, and artificial intelligence has altered the healthcare landscape. Early non-invasive detection, chemotherapy, and robotic surgery have become the norm in this setting. The physicians will learn to collaborate with AI as it automatically follows the best practice. Robotic surgery, in particular, will be quickly adopted as it is helpful and easy to use.
Progress will be inevitable as the ball continues to roll up the mountain of healthcare costs. According to Alexandru, a former neurologist turned AI advocate, the industry will eventually reach the other side, where valleys of low costs and high efficacy await.
Bringing Data Science approach to the Medical World
In 2017, Alexandru founded Artificial Intelligence Expert, as a spinoff of SAIA, a private research organization that focused on applying AI in healthcare, particularly in oncology.
The mission of AIE is clear and concise – To improve cancer outcomes and save lives by providing accessible and accurate non-invasive cancer detection and comprehensive biomedical data analysis.
Its vision is equally ambitious – To become the leading provider of innovative cancer solutions, advancing early detection and precision medicine for all.
With a focus on innovation and exclusive services, AIE has the potential to change the way cancer is detected and treated. One of its greatest achievements is the non-invasive Multi-Cancer Early Detection (MCED) test. Using advanced AI, the test recently achieved a robust accuracy of 100%, a result so impressive that they initially believed something was wrong. However, Alexandru believes, it could achieve maximum performance using different alternative methods with the same strategy. Additionally, the price of the test is affordable, and it uses widespread PCR technology, making it challenging for the competition to beat. Therefore, Alexandru and his team’s comprehensive approach is giving hope to millions of people worldwide who are affected by this devastating disease.
AI-Powered Services and Solutions
In healthcare, extracting insights from high-throughput data is critical for improving patient outcomes. However, this is no easy feat. As the industry generates a massive amount of high-throughput data, it is difficult to interpret without the use of Data Science and an AI approach. This is where the AIE steps in. The crucial difference between its solutions and those of competitors is that it strives to help doctors understand the paradigm shift in high-throughput data analysis. In contrast, the competitors usually show how smartly they could apply the old paradigm.
Alexandru states, most studies are costly and just a list of differentially expressed omics rather than extracting all information from data. This is merely an optional exploratory data analysis intermediary step. However, the company believes the relationship between the biomarkers and the output is equally important. Predictive models derived from data by AI can aid in this, and the company does not consider differentially expressed omics to be the end result. This is due to the fact that no AI/ML algorithm can predict based on omics that do not distinguish between two or more biomedical situations. Therefore, these uninformative omics are eliminated.
Another important aspect is that living systems have high functional redundancy at the molecular level. This means that different molecular processes can realize the same cellular function, leading to an impact on biomarker discovery. Therefore, aggressive feature selection may result in poor generalization to new cases.
Multi-Cancer Early Detection (MCED) test by AIE leverages the power of advanced AI to overcome these complications. They recently reached a robust accuracy of 100% which empowers this solution to transform cancer detection and treatment.
Staying ahead of the Trends
In the marketplace, where every player is struggling to keep up with the trends, Alexandru and his team have always found themselves way ahead of the trends. For instance,
- In 2004 when AI was just in the books, Alexandru and his team officially adopted AI technology.
- In 2006, his team created the first AI-powered system capable of extracting differential equations models from complex time-course high-throughput molecular data, a true paradigm shift in the field.
- They developed the “i-Biopsy” concept, which used ultrasound, radiology, and laboratory data to replace the need for invasive biopsies. This approach was well ahead of its time long before the industry came to use the more restrictive term “liquid biopsy.”
- They created the first Multi-Cancer Early Detection AI-powered test, a critical development in the fight against cancer.
These examples show that Alexandru does not look at the trends but has a strong vision of improving healthcare, which allows him to introduce novel solutions. Often, his ideas are so futuristic that he has to wait for the technologies to mature. For example, in 2008 they came up with the idea of automating biomedical research but they did not have the tools to implement it. But today they are able to deploy it with the help of Intelligent Automation or Hyperautomation, which combines digital automation with AI.
Meeting Customer Demands
AIE’s solutions are used by clinics and hospitals for the early detection of cancer. Alexandru is aware that the demands of these clinics and hospitals are constantly changing. To stay ahead of the curve, his company has developed a proactive approach. One effective way they achieve this is by having a dedicated customer service team available to answer all questions or concerns from clients. The team collects customer feedback regularly and uses it to identify areas for improvement. In addition to its customer-focused approach, the company invests in research and development to explore new technologies and solutions that can better serve its clients.
In the future, his team intends to broaden its services to include new cancer types and to provide more non-invasive diagnostic tests with higher accuracy and lower costs. He also intends to create a machine-learning platform that will allow their customers to efficiently analyze and interpret their data.
Nurturing Team and Collaboration
“Finally, we have a solid, experienced leadership team who can make strategic and informed decisions and lead the company through any challenges,” adds Alexandru.
His team is composed of highly skilled individuals who are experts in biomedicine, bioinformatics, and AI/ML. “At AIE, the team is driven by a passion for utilizing advanced technology to improve the healthcare industry,” adds Alexandru. It thrives on a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, which enables them to stay ahead of the curve and adapt to changes in the market quickly.
Alexandru encourages open communication, teamwork, and opportunities for professional development. He cultivates a creative environment through brainstorming. To ensure a productive and motivated team, his company took a revolutionary “Think Different” approach. It prioritizes work-life balance, clear goals, and objectives. It also recognizes and rewards its team member’s hard work and achievements to foster a sense of pride and ownership in work.
A Journey from Neurology to AI
The journey of Alexandru from neurology to AI is one of dedication, passion, and determination. In high school, he dreamed of becoming a theoretical physicist, but instead, he pursued a career in medicine. Even then, he remained committed to his love of science and
decided to learn advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry, and systems and control theory in addition to his biomedical studies. His fascination with brain physiology eventually led him to specialize in neurology. However, after a few years, he became frustrated by the deceptively low efficiency of neurological treatments for serious diseases such as stroke. As said, “Need is the mother of inventions,” Alexandru’s dissatisfaction paved the way for his revelation of AI.
As a hobby, Alexandru enjoyed writing and implementing mathematical models, and one day, he read a Nature paper that changed the course of his life. The paper showed that a flying insect with just five neurons could outperform any flying object created by humans. This revelation marked a turning point for him. He decided to follow his new dream and give up neurology to pursue AI. It was a difficult decision, but he was determined.
“You will see!” replied Alexandru when his father, a surgery professor, told him that as an unemployed ex-neurologist, he would be a loser and the family’s shame.
“You were Right”
“I knew exactly what I did not want to do but not what I will do,” mentions Alexandru. Despite discouragement from his father, he founded and led the Artificial Intelligence Department at the Cancer Institute Cluj-Napoca in 2000. AI was not yet widely recognized in the biomedical community at that time, but he and his team were determined to change that.
In 2004, he founded SAIA (Solutions of Artificial Intelligence Applications), a non-profit organization. He led many projects in this field, but one of his most notable accomplishments was the successful early detection of bladder cancer through collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2008. This project was eventually extended to other cancer types, and it was a major milestone for the field of AI in healthcare.
Ten years after his father criticized his career change, Alexandru received one of the greatest satisfactions of his life when his father acknowledged his achievements and told him, “I didn’t even dream of such accomplishments. You were right.” He proved that following dreams, even in the face of doubt and discouragement, can lead to incredible success.
What Future Holds
Alexandru is a leader who envisions a future “stable state” in healthcare that will be more efficient and cost-effective than the current “transition state.” He believes in this new state, high-throughput data will be used to extract actionable insights using artificial intelligence (AI), resulting in a dramatically new healthcare system.
“Imagine a surgeon oncologist having all patient data as a hologram in the operating room, discussing with its Digital Twin the protocol and the Robot Surgeon how and what to do, and dictating the protocol during the operation,” adds Alexandru.
The use of AI, robotics, and virtual and augmented reality will transform from being applied to structural in this new Digital Healthcare. Although the technologies are almost ready, the mindset is changing slower. However, physicians will discover quickly that these tools are a great help, easy to use, and fun to learn, greatly diminishing their burnout. Medical workflows will automatically follow best practice rules, and the accumulating data will also check the best practice consistency.
On the patient side, healthcare will focus on prevention, early detection, and non-invasive procedures, with patients taking a more active role in managing their own health. Wearable devices such as smartwatches and smartphones, as well as various sensors backed by AI, will play an increasingly important role in this future.
Even on the research front, AI will be used to enhance the efforts of human researchers, allowing for parallel work on multiple research themes. The result will be a dramatic boost in all sectors of healthcare, especially in our understanding of the microbiota and the immune system.
As for hospitals, they will become virtual and smart, transcending physical walls and national borders. Resources will be distributed and utilized more efficiently, resulting in a more effective and cost-efficient healthcare system overall.
Words of Wisdom
Alexandru has valuable advice for young entrepreneurs and leaders in the healthcare sector. He emphasizes focusing on innovation and disruption to make a mark in the industry.
“Think differently and revolutionarily, don’t consider biomedical knowledge as complete and perfect but challenge it with the knowledge extracted from high-throughput data using AI,” shares Alexandru.
Also read: The 10 Influential HealthTech Leaders, 2023.