Korea's 'Dr. Answer' to undergo trial in Saudi Arabia

The AI medical software solution reportedly identifies abnormalities in body fluids and tissues, and is currently able to diagnose eight diseases, including rare genetic disorders.
By Rachel McArthur
08:28 am
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Credit: Dr. Answer

A South Korean artificial intelligence (AI) medical software solution is making its way to Saudi Arabia, it has been confirmed.

Dr. Answer – a government-supported tool designed to “offer doctors accurate medical diagnosis by identifying abnormalities in body fluids and tissues” – will undergo clinical trials in the Kingdom. According to a Korean government spokesperson, it is the first time Dr. Answer will be tested outside of the country.

“Saudi Arabia is the first foreign nation to put Dr. Answer to the test,” a representative of the Ministry of Science and ICT told The Korea Herald. “We hope the latest introduction of the medical solution to Saudi Arabia will help the related parties enter the global AI healthcare market.”

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THE LARGER CONTEXT

The Ministry of Science and ICT elaborated that the software will undergo trial at six state hospitals under the Ministry of National Guard-Health Affairs. Those hospitals will reportedly spend “some time compiling sufficient patient data for the machine learning-based solution for local use.”

It is said to work by identifying abnormalities in body fluids and tissues, and is currently reportedly able to diagnose eight diseases: childhood genetic disorders, cardio-cerebrovascular illness, dementia, heart disease, epilepsy, and breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.

In May, the Korea Biomedical Review reported that Dr. Answer was able to detect the rare genetic movement disorder, Segawa syndrome (also known as dopamine-responsive dystonia).

“Accurate diagnosis of rare paediatric diseases required several repetitive tests for years, but Dr. Answer can identify the disorder in a very short time,” said Eun Baik-lin of Korea University Guro Hospital, who was leading the research alongside Lee Beom-hee of Asan Medical Center.

The export of Dr. Answer is part of the Korean government’s drive to support homegrown medical institutions and IT firms to enter the global AI healthcare market, said to reach $22.8 billion by 2023, according to Allied Market Research. A total of $40 million has apparently been invested towards the development of Dr. Answer so far since 2018.

While the Ministry of Science and ICT added that 26 hospitals in Korea will begin using Dr. Answer in “actual clinical settings” in H1 2021, the solution has also attracted controversy. Last year, it was reported that some physicians had expressed scepticism over the service’s feasibility. For example, one professor participating in the project said Korea had “no platform to collect medical data in one place”.

ON THE RECORD

“We are searching for ways to make the program a sustainable consortium,” said Kim Jong-jae, head of Asan Medical Center’s Asan Institute for Life Sciences. “I don’t want it to end as a one-off event. I hope that accumulated data and experiences could become a platform for venture firms to utilise in the future.”

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