One of the biggest questions that parents ask when their baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is when the infant can go home, says Khyzer Aziz, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics and director of the Neonatal Precision Medicine Center of Excellence. Often, the most common answer is, “We don’t know.”
Looking to provide more definitive answers, Aziz and colleagues are combining the computing power of Johns Hopkins’ Precision Medicine Analytics Platform (PMAP) and artificial intelligence to address this and other major questions in neonatology, in part by analyzing data from 30,000 NICU patients treated previously at Johns Hopkins.
Precision Medicine at Work
“We’re trying to answer both research questions and questions that are meaningful to families and parents,” Aziz says. This includes studying issues related to vision, severe neonatal lung disease, neonatal intestinal injury and brain injury from lack of oxygen or bleeding in the brain.
Ideally, a clinician could deploy a generative artificial intelligence program using existing information found in the electronic health record to provide parents and caregivers with individualized predictions on how their babies will do, instead of more general population-level statistics, Aziz says. Algorithms could help guide decisions on when it’s safe to discharge babies home, and if they’ll need any medical technology such as oxygen or a feeding tube. “The sooner we can identify potential needs for our families, we could start providing multidisciplinary supports for the inpatient hospitalization and discharge home,” he says.
For now, the project is still in the research stages, but the hope is to bring it to clinical use within the next one to two years, says Aziz. The idea is to employ the tool for all NICU babies so clinicians can engage in shared decision-making with parents and caregivers about meaningful questions related to their loved one.
“We’re very protective and very conscientious about our patients, families and community we serve,” he says. “Any work we do should be done openly, fairly and ethically.”