Future of Healthcare

Combining Irish-US strengths in health technology research for better healthcare outcomes

  • 30 March 2023
  • UCD and Northeastern University
  • Health, Technological

Technology is driving major advances in healthcare and health outcomes for people at all stages of life, in many domains including AI, machine learning and data analytics, health informatics, robotics, and Industry 5.0 (human/smart machines collaboration).

UCD and Northeastern University, Boston, have a long-standing collaborative relationship and shared culture of impact-driven research, and through a strengthened partnership in 2023, are driving technological breakthroughs across four core research strands: Digital Rehabilitation and Independent Living; Biologics and Advanced Manufacturing; Enhanced Post-Cardiac Surgery Outcomes; and Maternal Health.

Pictured right: Provost of Northeastern University Professor David Madigan, an Athlone-native who is on the advisory board of Insight, the SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, with Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact and incoming President of UCD.

To learn more about our shared strengths across our combined research and innovation ecosystem, we spoke to experts from UCD and NU. 


Professor Patricia Maguire

Director of UCD Institute for Discovery and AI Healthcare Hub (interdisciplinary accelerator within the institute), leading academic in the Maternal Health strand.

Patricia is a Professor in Biochemistry at UCD and an Artificial intelligence (AI) evangelist. She leads the AI_PREMie team that combines cutting-edge biomedical, clinical and machine-learning research to develop a new solution for preeclampsia. 


What AI-related research is leading to better healthcare outcomes?

"AI has the potential to revolutionise healthcare by delivering support tools to improve medical diagnosis, developing better, more personalised treatments for patients and maybe even predicting disease-onset before obvious symptoms occur. For example, in early Parkinson’s, AI tools have been used to detect very subtle changes that the human ear can’t detect in patterns of speech; or in early Alzheimer’s, AI has been used to pick up on minute changes in scans in the region of our brain that detects smell.

"Overall, while AI has the potential to transform healthcare by improving patient outcomes and giving front-line care-providers more time to care, which is fundamentally what everyone wants- improvement of patient care to prevent or manage disease progression giving the person a better quality of life.

"It is important that like any new med tech or new drug treatment, clinical AI solutions need to be carefully regulated and they need be fully explainable - they can’t be a black box where no one understands how they work. I believe that it is important to approach the development and deployment of AI with caution and ensure that they are used ethically and responsibly. By doing so, we can harness the power of AI to create a better future for all."


What major global challenges in healthcare are you addressing? 

"I lead out on a project called AI_PREMie, where our team use cutting-edge biomedical, clinical and AI knowhow to develop a prototype risk stratification algorithm for pre-eclampsia, a serious complication affecting 1-in-12 pregnancies.

"AI_PREMie is an exciting multidisciplinary project that has been enabled by bringing together clinicians and front-line staff from across the three Dublin maternity hospitals, together with a team of scientists and academics from across UCD as well as data scientists from industry, namely SAS Institute and Microsoft. All funded and supported by Science Foundation Ireland challenge funding.

"Every seven minutes an expectant mum loses her life because of complications from pre-eclampsia and every 40 secs a little baby is lost due to pre-eclampsia. As delivery is the only treatment option, another 5 million babies are born, sometimes very prematurely, because of this condition. So, pre-eclampsia has truly devastating effects- affecting the smallest and most vulnerable members of society, their whole families, and communities.

"There have been no advances in diagnostic methods in pre-eclampsia, we are still using blood pressure and proteinuria to screen women (as were the ancient Egyptians!) and these poorly predict outcome. And, as pre-eclampsia can often rapidly escalate, there is importantly, no test to help make the critical decision on when is the right time to deliver that baby; because remember, preterm, every day in utero counts for that baby."

"AI_PREMie will assist in a timely diagnosis of pre-eclampsia. Diagnosing this disease in a timely way will mean effective, efficient clinical decision making with a huge impact on societal good, by preventing premature birth, impacting long-term health and ultimately, saving the lives of mothers and babies."

A diversity of expertise and partnerships will be necessary to drive advances in healthcare, and the partnership between and complementary expertise of UCD and NU will be a leader in defining and developing the healthcare of the future.

— Prof Jared Auclair, Northeastern University

What unique combined strengths do UCD-NU bring to research and innovation in Maternal Health? 

"Combining the strengths of the multi-disciplinary AI_PREMie (led by UCD) and PROTECT (led by Northeastern University) teams we want to create new AI-powered solutions to transform maternal health across the globe. For example, it is vitally important to have sufficient high-quality training data to ensure that AI-based algorithms like AI_PREMie, once in routine deployment in hospitals, will always make an accurate decision. Training AI_PREMie on different patient populations across the world will maximise its performance enabling our team to deliver on our collective mission to get our new test to every patient who needs it across the world as we really do believe it will save lives.

"Another use case where UCD and NU are collaborating is in HEART: Healthcare Enabled by AI in Real Time, where the goal is to capture information from multiple sources on a post-operative patient in cardiothoracic intensive care, such as information on vital signs/ECGs/blood test results, and compute this in real-time to predict outcomes as they recover. This will help to augment clinical decision making and ultimately make early interventions to save lives.



Professor Jared Auclair

Director of Biotechnology, Director of Bioinformatics, Vice Provost for Research Economic Development and Director of Bioinnovation at NU.

Jared, who is leading academic of the Biologics and Advanced Manufacturing strand, believes biomanufacturing will be a key sedctor in the future of healthcare. To this end, NU’s Biopharmaceutical Analysis Training Laboratory (BATL) engages in real-world research in biomanufacturing to end-product testing. UCD also hosts the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), which is committed to providing training and research solutions for the biopharma manufacturing industry.


"Over the last 100 years, healthcare has rapidly changed and evolved. One hundred years ago when my grandparents were children, healthcare was completely different. The technologies we are so used to in hospitals and clinics were non-existent, coordinated data was available and much of our decision-making was based on the physician’s experience and gut. As a matter of fact, the “Wiley Act” in the United States (Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906) gave the USDA Bureau of Chemistry regulatory jurisdiction over our medicines, and the FDA as we know it was instituted in 1927 as the Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration, shortening its name in 1930 to the Food and Drug Administration.

"So, where does healthcare go over the next 100 years?  It becomes the integration of new technologies, data management systems, and integration of innovations across the entire bioeconomy. A diversity of expertise and partnerships will be necessary to drive advances in healthcare, and the partnership between and complementary expertise of UCD and NU will be a leader in defining and developing the healthcare of the future."      


What unique combined strengths do UCD-NU bring in the area of advanced robotics? 

"UCD and NU bring unique capabilities in robotics to address digital rehabilitation and independent living, but that only scratches the surface of what is possible. Both UCD and NU have expertise in robotics and automation that can impact healthcare writ large that can touch on other aspects of the collaboration, e.g. Advanced Manufacturing. The combination of the robotics with expertise in AI/ML also provides unique opportunity to design “smart robotics” that will positively impact patients lives." 


What research in the area of Biologics and Advanced Manufacturing is leading to better healthcare outcomes? 

"Biomanufacturing is a key aspect of the future of healthcare. This was evident over the last few years with the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to develop and commercialise the COVID-19 vaccines. There are opportunities to drive towards continued manufacturing strategies that include interactions across robotics, advanced manufacturing, and other areas. In addition to innovations in the processes of making biological drugs, e.g. flexibility, automation, integration, there is an opportunity to also innovate to make a more environmentally friendly process, for instance, use less water, reduce energy, and develop new materials to replace plastic waste."


What major global challenges in healthcare are you addressing? 

"We are taking a holistic approach to global challenges in healthcare that leverage new technologies, data to drive learnings, and keeping focus on patient and quality of life of patients.  Healthcare is closely linked to the bioeconomy as well; thinking about food insecurity and how alternative foods may be developed, biomaterials to reduce plastic waste and efforts to mitigate climate change and environment impact of peoples lives."