April 20, 2024

Cambridgeshire companies bet on AI for dementia care and medicines

  • By Janine Machin
  • Technology correspondent, BBC East

Image source, Steve Hubbard/BBC


BilogIC uses artificial intelligence to develop and manufacture medicines faster and cheaper

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now part of our daily lives, whether we know it or not. For years, healthcare organizations have been exploring its potential to improve cancer diagnosis and reduce treatment times, but two Cambridgeshire start-ups are trying something else. We want to provide life-saving medicines more quickly and economically. The other is to try to improve the lives of people with dementia and their caregivers.

Matt Ash’s mother spent two weeks without heat one winter because she didn’t know how to tell anyone what had happened.

“My brothers and I live hours away from Mom,” Matt said.

“When he was diagnosed, we dove into the world of remote care.

“At first she was fine living alone, but we found it difficult to know how the disease was progressing and when we should intervene.”

That’s what led electronics engineer and his Supersense Technologies co-founder James Brown to try to develop a solution.

Image source, Jamie Niblock/BBC


Dr Matt Ash and Dr James Brown are using AI to develop a monitoring device that could help people with dementia live at home for longer.

The Cambridge-based team has produced a device that can monitor a house and the person living there without cameras or microphones.

By installing it early in a person’s dementia process, it can “learn” their usual behavior and alert caregivers to problems or changes in patterns.

James said: “Are they waking up more at night? Has their mobility changed?”

“It can detect subtle changes over a long period of time, but also alert caregivers to falls immediately.

“We hope this will give people with dementia independence for longer and give their carers confidence.

“Privacy and simplicity are key. It’s just a plug-in box with some smart sensors inside, allowing caregivers to take the right action at the right time for them.”

Image source, Janine Machín/BBC


Matt Ash and James Brown meet regularly with dementia carers to find out what challenges they need help with

Matt and James travel the region asking caregivers what they need and then try to design a solution.

In Colchester, Essex, they met Lynn, who is 60 and has been caring for her husband Terry since he was diagnosed with the disease aged 55.

“I can’t leave it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable,” she said.

“Every day is different. Some days he knows my name, some days he doesn’t.

“Some days you can’t find the front door, but sometimes I want to be able to go to the store.”

Image source, Jamie Niblock/BBC


Lynn’s husband Terry was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 55.

The social worker has been helping Supersense Technologies with its investigation.

“A one-box monitoring system would be great for Terry. There’s no interaction.

“Pendants and telephones don’t work for him. He wouldn’t know what to do with them.

“He used to be a builder, but now he can’t build anything.”

Image source, Jamie Niblock/BBC


Phil said privacy was important and appreciated a device that didn’t have cameras or microphones.

Phil is 67 and cares for his wife Anne at their home in nearby Tiptree. He can still leave her for short periods of time, but he hopes this technology will allow caregivers to make those trips with more confidence.

“I’m happy with the design because it doesn’t have cameras that can be hacked,” he said.

“Obviously you don’t want to invade the privacy of the person with dementia or anyone else in the house. It sounds almost too good to be true.”

Image source, Janine Machín/BBC


Richard Vellacott said AI could help reduce the time it takes to develop life-saving drugs from a decade to 12 months.

Meanwhile, 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Cambridge, nestled in a cluster of barns and stone buildings in Fordham, is BiologIC Technologies.

In purpose-built laboratories, the company is trying to use artificial intelligence to make life-saving drugs more affordable and faster to produce.

“Around the world, scientists are developing wonder drugs, but this can take 10 years or more of trial and error,” said Richard Vellacott, the company’s chief executive.

“AI can analyze the data generated from those trials in a way that humans cannot and learn lessons about how best to develop future medicines.

“It could help reduce development time to a year, and that would also reduce costs and hopefully make these drugs available to anyone who needs them.”

Image source, Steve Hubbard/BBC


AI can analyze data from thousands of clinical studies to help develop future drugs faster by avoiding previous mistakes.

Currently, the team is working on nucleic acid drugs. It is what many Covid-19 vaccines are based on, but it also has the potential to become key in cancer care.

The company has made “biological computers” that process liquids and DNA, instead of the usual electronic data.

Image source, Janine Machín/BBC


This drug manufacturing machine, made with a 3D printer, can produce hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses in just a few hours

In a machine smaller than the brick of a house, made with a 3D printer, they can produce hundreds of thousands of vaccines in a few hours.

If they need to increase production, they simply print more machines.

“This technology will also be invaluable with the increasing use of personalized medicines,” Richard said.

“It’s possible to have hundreds of these small machines, each producing something unique to the patient, rather than traditional large vats producing large quantities of the same thing.”

The UK government has made it clear that it believes artificial intelligence has an important role in healthcare. In October it announced a £100m fund to accelerate the use of AI in the life sciences.

He has also pledged £2bn for biological engineering, a way of combining the two scientific fields to find solutions to the world’s medical, environmental, food and fuel problems.

Next year we will see both sectors expand in the UK.

BilogIC and Supersense hope to take advantage of the opportunities of that growth and develop products that make a big difference.

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