AI_PREMie in "Dragon's Den for Scientists"

Pictured left-right: Dr Paulina Szklanna, Senior Researcher at UCD Conway Sphere, Prof Fionnuala Ní Áinle, Co-Director, UCD Conway SPHERE and Clinical Lead in the Department of Haematology at the Mater Misericordiae hospital, Prof Patricia Maguire, Director, Institute for Discovery and Co-Director, UCD Conway Sphere and Prof Mary Higgins, Associate Professor, UCD School of Medicine and Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist, National Maternity Hospital. 



It has been called “Dragon’s Den for Scientists” - and a number of shortlisted teams from UCD will go head-to-head in Science Foundation Ireland’s €2m AI for Societal Good Challenge throughout 2020. 

One such team, UCD Conway SPHERE, led by Prof Patricia Maguire, director of UCD Institute for Discovery, will “disrupt” diagnostics and save the lives of mothers and their newborn babies. 

“Preeclampsia (PET) is difficult to diagnose and kills 50,000 mothers and 500,000 babies every year. We will develop a new diagnostic test called #AI_PREMie to better predict PET severity and help save lives.”

Reducing maternal and newborn mortality are priority goals under Sustainable Development Goals 3. The WHO has also said that many such deaths are preventable with effective, timely clinical interventions. Prof Maguire and her UCD Conway SPHERE colleagues - Prof Fionnuala Ní Áinle, Prof Mary Higgins and Dr Paulina Szklanna - set about addressing this challenge. 

“#AI_PREMie is a risk stratification tool that identifies women with PET - and also how they will progress. At present delivery of the pre-term baby is the only treatment and the safest option for the mother. But  pre-term delivery can lead to long-term neurodevelopmental problems and death,” explains Prof Maguire. “Our #AI_PREMie tool assesses the preeclampsia risk based on what are called biomarkers in the mother’s blood. Caregivers will then know if they need to plan for delivery or if the baby can stay in utero and have that precious opportunity to develop more. Every day in utero counts.”

Finding PET biomarkers in a mother’s blood “is like finding a needle in a haystack. Basically we have developed an algorithm to pull out that needle from the haystack” says Prof Maguire - and the AI for Societal Good Challenge supports interdisciplinary teams to develop novel, potentially disruptive AI-based solutions that address significant national and global societal challenges.

The #AI_PREMie project also includes the “patient voice”, with many women giving first-hand accounts of their own preeclampsia traumas. 

One such mother is former midwife Libby O’Sullivan from Kenmare, Co Kerry, whose second daughter Caoimhe, 3, was born at 28 weeks weighing 850 grams. 

“I am pleased to see more research being done on the early detection and treatment of preeclampsia,” says Mrs O’Sullivan. “If you can predict who is at risk you can treat it earlier. And the earlier you can identify people at risk the better for outcomes.”