Muscle and joint pain is one of the most costly and debilitating health conditions, yet it gets far less attention than heart disease or cancers. Those aches and pains in our muscles and bones from long periods of inactivity or repetitive motions and diseases like arthritis and osteoporosis have a huge influence on our lives.
Margreth Grotle, one of CIM’s lead researchers, cites the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, a decades-long study from the University of Washington on the impact of disease around the world, which found that musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders also cost more in treatment and lost potential than heart disease or cancer.
Grotle sees AI playing a big role in treating MSK. "Much of the future health services will be digitalised,” Grotle, tells us. “We want to be a part of that now, building AI-based methods to develop future health services”.
The new centre aims to build bridges between health science researchers and technology experts in order to find effective solutions to reduce the disability impact of MSK disorders and the cost of treating them. "To have a meaningful impact, we need an interdisciplinary approach,” Professor Minna Pikkarainen, CIM’s other lead researcher, explains. “We will bring together people with health and technology backgrounds, clinicians, and patients."
Three pillars of research
CIM's mission is built on three pillars: AI-based research, innovation, and real-world testing. In pursuit of the first pillar, the CIM researchers will use machine learning to analyse data from Norway's health and welfare registries.
Because of Norway's extensive health system, the researchers have a wealth of patient data to analyse for diagnoses, interventions, and outcomes. This information, combined with the AI they are developing, may be able to predict whether a patient will have a good response to a treatment.
"Spine surgery, for example, is highly technical and some patients respond better to other treatments. Our algorithms will help the surgeon determine the likelihood of success or failure for you as a patient," Grotle says.
Innovations like this clinical decision support tool form the second pillar of CIM's research: using health data to come up with personalised interventions for MSK disorders. These may include apps, AI solutions, and other new innovations.
One of their research projects, AID-SPINE, which is funded by the Norwegian Research Council, is looking at the specific question of outcomes after conservative and/or surgical care. They have already hired a PhD student and postdoctoral fellow to work on this project.
Third, the CIM researchers will take these AI-based solutions into the clinic and to see how they can help patients. A key element of this work will be involving the patient and physician communities to get their perspectives.
Researchers will use randomized controlled trials to test that the solutions work as expected, as well as qualitative interviews with patients and clinicians to make sure their needs are met.
A centre to provide focus
Being named one of OsloMet's five Centres of Research Excellence will afford affiliated researchers the time and opportunities they need to develop what Grotle calls "visionary thoughts". By this, she means creating solutions that patients need and collecting evidence to support their use.
Centre status will also help them to write funding applications, recruit the right team of graduate students and postdocs, and build the interdisciplinary team they need.
Their long-term goal is to use all they learn over the next few years to apply to be a Norwegian Centre of Research Excellence (SFF).