A World of Answers - brought to you by University of Pretoria

Artificial Intelligence could save your life

The 4th Industrial Revolution is the recent buzz word, but how will it impact our lives in South Africa, and our health care system in particular?

Aubrey Masango chats to Professor Annie Joubert, in the Dept of Physiology at the University of Pretoria and Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, Head of the Department of ENT and Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Pretoria and Steve Biko Academic Hospital. in the third episode of A World of Answers.

What exactly is the 4th Industrial Revolution?

It is characterised by intercalating technologies across physical, digital and biological systems...this means the 4ID includes new technologies that are currently developing with exponential velocity, breadth, and depth. And its transformed medicine and health.

Professor Annie Joubert, Dept of Physiology - University of Pretoria

The 4th Industrial Revolution applies to everything in medicine says Professor Tshifularo.

The 4IR in medicine affects everything, like genetic engineering, what we call precision medicine, data science, diagnostics, rehabilitation and treatment.

Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, Department of Otorhinolaryngology - University of Pretoria

Listen to the fascinating and informative podcast below:

It uses genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and data science, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 3D printing in health, together with robotics used in surgery, she explains.

Prof. Joubert outlines how the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its various technologies become practically applicable to the field of medicine. It ranges from gene therapy where the technology helps diagnose specific illnesses and enables gene editing to bring about cures, to nanotechnology where nanoparticles can deliver specific drugs, for example, to treat certain cancers, which also minimise the negative side-effects of chemotherapeutic drugs.

With the use of AI, doctors are able to work out precise radiation doses that cancer patients require, with pinpoint accuracy.

It links to 'precision medicine'. It is not a case of one size fits all in the treatment of diseases.

Professor Annie Joubert, Dept of Physiology - University of Pretoria

There is also a high-cost implication of such new technology, she adds. But as the field develops, she says costs will fall and become more accessible.

She emphasises the importance of collaborative research in the field of AI both nationally and internationally.

Research cannot happen in silos.

Professor Annie Joubert, Dept of Physiology - University of Pretoria

The University of Pretoria's newly established Cancer Research Institute is ensuring collaborative research is taken through to patient care. It works closely with other universities in South Africa to contribute to the national health care system.

We have several researchers that are A-rated within the University of Pretoria...and a continuous exchange of knowledge, with papers in internationally accredited journals.

Professor Annie Joubert, Dept of Physiology - University of Pretoria

Prof Tshifularo and his team developed a pioneering surgical procedure using 3D-printed middle ear bones.

When I discovered the 3D technology it revolutionised everything we were doing, helping to come up with tailor-made precision therapy for an individual patient.

Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, Department of Otorhinolaryngology - University of Pretoria

For ten years he tried to find the solution to this middle-ear conductive hearing loss and then realised he could reconstruct the middle-ear bones and structure. And that's what he did.

This technology is exciting...and it looks exactly like the bones that were damaged...and managed to restore the patient's hearing.

Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, Department of Otorhinolaryngology - University of Pretoria

Both professors agree there are ethical issues related to the use of such advanced technology in medicine and will need to be treated with caution going forward into the future.

And with the increasing use of robotics in medicine, Tshifulero says it is important to always remember the importance of the doctor-patient relationship.

The human touch will never go away. There will always need to be a human being somewhere on the line.

Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, Department of Otorhinolaryngology - University of Pretoria

He says the 4th Industrial Revolution has helped take cancer therapy forward in leaps and bounds.


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