Might artificial intelligence (AI) possess the answer to detecting the initial phases of degenerative brain disorders and unlocking opportunities for interventions before it becomes too late?

For almost a decade Dr Sam Danso’s career has focussed on the application of AI and Big Data technologies to brain health research with a particular focus on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD).

Today, that work has been recognised, as the Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Sunderland, has been unveiled as one of seven academics globally, and the UK’s only academic, to be selected for the inaugural William H Gates Snr Fellowship, established to support the new generation of researchers who have novel approaches to end Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

It is estimated there are currently 35.6 million people globally living with the disease, with eight million new cases recorded annually.

The Fellowship has been set up by the Alzheimer’s Disease Data Initiative (ADDI), a coalition of leading academic, government, industry, and non-profit organisations, dedicated to advancing scientific breakthroughs in the treatment of ADRD. The Fellowship is named after William Gates Snr who left a legacy in law, philanthropy and activism and is the father of Billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2020 at age 94.

The two-year program provides researchers with a $100k financial award, mentoring and network opportunities, and other supports such as publication assistance and conference attendance.

Sam has already been involved in various research programmes including the PREVENT Dementia Programme in the UK and Ireland –and the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia.

Sam’s Fellowship programme is drawing on AI and Big Data to explore risk factors for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

He explains: “While most ADRD have no cure, early detection and diagnosis has the potential to delay the onset and underpinning process. Those early risk include factors such as genetics, lifetime experiences, environmental and lifestyle playing a varying role in the process. The collective behaviours of risk factors at an individual level and how that manifests need to be understood to be able to diagnose and intervene.”

The two-year research programme will draw on existing data from the US, UK and European countries, looking into various populations and individuals with a related neurodegenerative disease, employing AI and Big Data to support the research work, identifying patterns and developing risk prediction models.

It’s anticipated Sam will conduct his work at the University of Sunderland campus, within the School of Computer Science.

Sam added: “I am honoured to be announced as a Gates Fellow. The work we’re doing can help transform so many lives, not just for those potentially at risk of ADRD, but for their wider support network of families and friends, who often have to watch their loved ones suffer over time, it can be devastating.”

Tetsuyuki Maruyama, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Data Initiative, says:

“The AD Data Initiative honors William H. Gates Sr.’s lifetime commitment to fostering a better world with this two-year Fellowship. We thank the exceptional candidate pool – the quality of research ideas and professional backgrounds was astonishing.

“Our seven Fellows proposed research demonstrates boldness, creativity, and innovation. This leaves us with eager optimism for a future that sees the end of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.”

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