By Whitney Akinyi

The Aga Khan University (AKU) in Kenya has been awarded a substantial research grant of Kshs. 112 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies in the realm of colorectal cancer diagnosis.

This substantial grant, with the support of the University of Michigan’s Center of Global Health Equity (CGHE), seeks to harness the power of AI to revolutionize the speed and precision of colorectal cancer diagnosis, especially in Africa where this disease is a pressing public health concern.

Colorectal cancer, a leading cause of mortality worldwide, particularly impacts Africa, where specialized training and advanced diagnostic technologies are often lacking, hampering early diagnosis and effective treatment.

According to the World Health Organization, colorectal cancer stands as the third most common cancer globally, constituting approximately 10 percent of all cancer cases. The Global Cancer Observatory further reveals that as of 2020, colorectal cancer had a 2.5 percent 5-year prevalence in Africa.

Dr. Mansoor Saleh, Founding Director of the Cancer Centre at Aga Khan University Kenya, expressed his enthusiasm for the NIH grant, stating,

“I am thrilled with this NIH grant, which will enable us to make meaningful strides in addressing the challenges of colorectal cancer diagnosis and prognostication in Africa. Our ultimate goal is to create a future where diagnostic limitations, especially in the area of history- and molecular pathology, can be overcome through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

This groundbreaking initiative is set to bring about transformative change and improve health outcomes for countless individuals across Africa. By leveraging AI and machine learning, the Aga Khan University and the University of Michigan’s CGHE aim to mitigate the diagnostic limitations and barriers that have hampered colorectal cancer treatment on the continent.

Professor Akbar Waljee, CGHE Member, and Director of the Aga Khan University and University of Michigan collaboration, emphasized the collaborative nature of this venture.

“This NIH grant is a testament to the incredible research collaboration between the Center for Global Health Equity at the University of Michigan and Aga Khan University in Kenya. It highlights the potential of research originating in Kenya to make a lasting impact on global health. Together, we are committed to advancing healthcare and promoting equity in health outcomes for all,” said the professor.

The NIH-funded research will be spearheaded by an interdisciplinary team consisting of oncologists, pathologists, surgeons, statisticians, and informaticians from the Aga Khan University, the Center of Global Health Equity, and Tenwek Hospital, a community-based public hospital in Bomet County.

This diverse team brings a wealth of expertise to the table, ensuring that this pioneering project covers all necessary aspects of colorectal cancer diagnosis and treatment.