A patient is in the ICU, struggling to breathe. His lungs aren’t working. He’s put on a mechanical ventilator, which pushes air into his lungs. He could be on it for a long time – until his immune system kicks in, his illness clears, and his body starts to recover. The ventilator may save his life, but there may also be a steep price to be paid.
Right now, mechanical ventilation is a mixed blessing. We know that it saves lives – we have seen it do so repeatedly during COVID-19 – but it is also painful and uncomfortable for the patient, it can significantly damage the airway and lungs, hurt the diaphragm, reduce the amount of blood the heart pumps out, and make oxygen toxic. These complications might end up causing longer hospital stays, disability, or even death.
What’s more, no two patients are alike – so mechanical ventilation can’t be a one-size-fits-all treatment. Here’s the challenge: How can we make sure the patient gets the full benefit of mechanical ventilation, with none of its terrible side effects?
St. Michael’s Dr. Laurent Brochard, one of the world’s top experts on respiration and the Keenan Chair in Critical Care and Respiratory and Acute Respiratory Failure, is working on an answer with Dr. Muhammad Mamdani, the Vice-President of Data Science and Advanced Analytics and the Odette Chair in Advanced Analytics. They’re using artificial intelligence technology and machine learning to do it.
The team is creating algorithms that can analyze, minute-by-minute, what’s happening to a patient and make recommendations to the ICU team. The ICU clinicians then apply their own expertise and knowledge of the patient’s history to make the adjustments needed to give the patient the best chance at recovery. The point is to adapt ventilators to individual needs, thereby ensuring the best possible ventilation, with the highest degree of safety.
That revolutionary idea won them the $150,000 Odette Award for Health System Innovation at Angels Den 2022 – St. Michael’s annual medical research competition.
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