Lung research emphasized during COVID-19 pandemic; researcher Mehdi Alilou to use artificial intelligence to help predict response to lung cancer therapies
Mehdi Alilou, research assistant professor of biomedical engineering and a researcher in the Center for Computational Imaging and Personalized Diagnostics (CCIPD) at Case Western Reserve University, has been awarded a Lung Cancer Discovery Award from the American Lung Association to investigate how individual non-small cell lung cancer patients respond to immunotherapy.
Alilou’s research work focuses on translational lung cancer research. He has been developing computational tools for automatic detection, diagnosis and prediction of response to treatment of lung cancer on chest CT scans.
Alilou, a research assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will focus on “immune-checkpoint inhibitors,” a class of drugs that help stimulate the body’s immune system to fight the cancer.
“These immune-checkpoint inhibitors have shown promising clinical efficacy for the treatment of advanced non-small cell lung cancer,” Alilou said. “Given the prohibitive costs of immunotherapy, the fact that the response rates to these drugs remain modest (about 20%) and the lack of objective methods for early evaluation of clinical benefit from immunotherapy, there is an unmet clinical need for non-invasive imaging techniques to monitor response for those patients.”
Alilou also started working on developing computational tools for CT-based diagnosis and outcome prediction of COVID-19 cases as the pandemic has led to widespread deaths from respiratory complications.
“We have shown that our AI (artificial intelligence), our computational-imaging tools being developed within CCIPD, can have the potential to predict an individual cancer patient’s response to immunotherapy,” said Anant Madabhushi, director of the CCIPD and Alilou’s research mentor on the grant.
The Lung Association linked this most recent round of awards—about $11.55 million to 98 projects—to COVID-19. Alilou was awarded $100,000 for this work.
Association President and CEO Harold Wimmer said in a news release that the ongoing global pandemic has “placed lung health at the forefront of everyone’s minds, especially for those who are concerned about air pollution, wildfires and pre-existing lung conditions such as asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.)”
Many, but not all, of the grants were aimed at COVID-19-related research.
“Despite the fact that the pandemic poses significant economic challenges, the American Lung Association is prioritizing research and significantly increasing award funding to help improve the lung health of all Americans,” Wimmer said.