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Southampton’s research into AI for genetics receives funding boost



Researchers in Southampton will develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to improve the analysis and interpretation of newly discovered variations in people’s DNA.


The project has been awarded £596,000 by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It is titled ‘Artificial intelligence methods applied to genomic data for improved health’, or AGENDA.


The funding was part of a new £13 million investment by the government into projects aiming to transform health using AI to assist and refine diagnostics and procedures.


Professor Sarah Ennis, Professor of Genomics at the University of Southampton, will lead the project. It forms part of the Data, Health and Society theme at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.


Investigating the genome


The genome is the entire set of DNA found in our cells. This includes all our genes, but also covers additional instructions required for these genes to function properly.


It’s a huge amount of data to analyse and interpret. The AGENDA project will use AI to investigate newly discovered variations in the genome and their potential impact on patients’ health.


The team will develop AI algorithms and modelling approaches to analyse genomic data. They aim to develop approaches which map genomic data to biological pathways, and improve the computational modelling of proteins.


They will also investigate whether machine learning can be used to predict outcomes for patients.


Prof Ennis said: “This grant provides the opportunity to develop novel solutions for the analysis of genomic data. By incorporating an automated AI-based toolkit, we aim to maximise data usage, significantly speed up the return of molecular diagnoses, and identify biologically relevant targets for personalised therapies.


“In the future, this will reduce hospital and treatment costs and provide digital systems, minimising the need for manual curation.”


Experts from many different areas


The team includes Sarah Ennis, Ellie Seaby, James Ashton and Guo Cheng from the Faculty of Medicine, Paul Skipp and Andy Shapanis from Biological Sciences, Jon Essex and Steven Turner from Chemistry and Jagmohan Chauhan from Electronics & Computer Science.


This latest funding follows the recent announcement of £31m to the University of Southampton to lead the Responsible AI UK consortium.


“Our diverse, interdisciplinary team highlights the ever-increasing value and importance of interdisciplinary science working on ‘big data’ to deliver better health,” said Prof Ennis.


“The team will directly benefit from working alongside the growing cadre of expertise in AI-related research in Southampton, and is testament to our position at heart of AI health research in the UK.”


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