• Friday, February 23, 2024
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Kingsley Ndoh: Nigerian getting the world’s attention in cancer care with AI

Kingsley Udoh

A few years ago when Kingsley Ndoh, founder of Hurone AI lost an aunt to colorectal cancer, the gaps he noticed in her treatment stirred up in him, the need to do something about it. After medical school in Nigeria, he left the country in search of knowledge to find a solution that could help others in the future.

His original plan was to start a cancer centre back in Nigeria, and after getting to the US, started his career at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre’s global oncology program. Also, he found extra inspiration to start Hurone AI in a book he read on a flight in 2017, ‘Humans Need Not Apply’ by Jerry Kaplan.

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The book, which talked about the different applications of artificial intelligence in different industries, also included healthcare. “What really struck me from that book was the fact that when you think about technologies that we develop here in the west, say, an MRI, you can take an MRI to Nairobi and it works perfectly,” he says. “But if you develop, say, a clinical decision support tool here that is powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), you can’t really take it to Nairobi for it to work. This is because it’s a different clinical context and different data that was used to train it.”

And thus began his quest to develop tools that can be more culturally relevant to delivering care in Africa. As he found out, it was important to have local data and epidemiology in those regions where treatments are to be targeted. “Because without that, then there’s going to be an even bigger gulf when it comes to healthcare efficiency, patient outcomes, et cetera,” he says. Armed with this, he started thinking about how to innovate with artificial intelligence in these (underserved) parts of the world. Importantly, he reckons that such treatments designed for Africans would also be applicable for underrepresented, migrant populations in the West as well.

According to him, “with the advancement of artificial intelligence in healthcare, the disparities in health outcomes in general, including cancer, is going to be even more stacked than we see today”. But being intentional about developing solutions tailored for the African (and other underrepresented populations), gives people in those places the fighting chance against illness too.

And so he birthed Hurone AI, a medical technology company that utilizes artificial intelligence to advance precision care, mostly in underrepresented populations. While the company has a global view, its main focus is Africa and Latin America.

Its other mission is to improve drug safety in those populations as well by supporting pharmaceutical clinical trials, especially phase three, by supporting diversity in those clinical trials. Launched in November of 2021 at the Rwandan Cancer Centre, it has deployed its software, a two way messaging software that has a physician facing side, and another for patients.

At this year’s AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, Hurone AI was mentioned a number of times as one of those solutions with the potential to change the future of healthcare, especially through generative AI. Using AWS’s Bedrock, it is creating a system for remote cancer care in several African countries, by allowing doctors to communicate more efficiently with faraway patients through an AI-powered cell phone application.

At an expert panel of pathologists, doctors and medical technologists who met at re:Invent, it was said that AI is bringing cancer patients new types of care—with more efficiency and better outcomes. They discussed how future innovation in cancer diagnosis and drug discovery will rely on the scalability and security of the cloud, along with new advancements in generative artificial intelligence (generative AI).

Earlier this year, Hurone AI launched in Nigeria at Zenith Medical and Kidney Centre in Abuja. According to Ndoh, the hospital is the largest kidney centre in West Africa and does the highest amount of kidney transplants, and also sees a lot of urologic cancers.

He explains potential use cases at this Nigerian centre to include when a patient is on dialysis and they are deteriorating beyond what their kidney condition is. The Hurone AI platform becomes useful in detecting it early as well as early signs of kidney rejection for people that have undergone transplant. The company also intends to plug into any national strategic plan for healthcare in Nigeria, with Ndoh planning visits to meet key stakeholders.

The solution being offered by Hurone AI is not limited to cancer, he clarifies. “We’re starting with cancer but we are definitely going into other disease areas. Zenith for instance is both urologic cancers and kidney disease,” he says.

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The reason other potential use cases haven’t been publicized as much is according to him, because “we don’t want to confuse the brand yet”. But in Rwanda where it was first deployed, there are 100 breast cancer patients currently using it.

By early next year, he expects the service to be fully launched in Nigeria as well. When this happens, his dream to facilitate the delivery of quality cancer care, to avoid deaths like that of his aunt, would then get closer to finding fulfilment.