Insights into Artificial Intelligence and Computer-Assisted Software Development by Leading Expert Nida Fatima, MD

“Best and affordable healthcare is a fundamental right for all human beings”

16 July 2021

Nida Fatima, MD is a postdoctoral fellow in neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and works as a content strategist for AO North America. She is an associate member of AO-KF degenerative spine and leads multiple projects for AOGO, a worldwide initiative by AO Spine on conducting evidence-based medicine with osteobiologics. She has published over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers, abstracts, and proposals in neurosurgery and is a well-known speaker and recipient of multiple prestigious awards.

We conducted an interview with her to discuss some of her recent research initiatives and the awards she has received for them, in particular, an award from the AO Translational Innovation Center for her research on augmented reality.


You just received an award from the AO Foundation. Could you tell us about that?

I received the AO Strategic Fund from the AO Translational Innovation Center for developing an augmented reality smartphone camera to help treat patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis. This camera integrates clinical and radiographic factors and gives a management plan based on the predictive probability of clinical outcomes among patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis. 

In short, this camera incorporates a pioneer work on augmented reality with artificial intelligence. This medical software will be available to the world very soon, completely free of cost, and will help billions of patients and save trillions of dollars a year. 


You have also participated in some other award-winning initiatives in recent years. What were those about?

  • Merck Innovation Championship, 2021

The brightest students from all over the world meet at Merck to learn from professionals, network, develop business plans and win the Innovation Cup. I presented the idea of using a deep convolutional neural network in predicting outcomes among patients with metastatic spine tumors. 

This is an automated software that will augment the spine tumor site and predict the survival and neurological function among those patients. Depending upon clinical and radiographic factors, the software will provide the best management plan that could include surgery, medicine, stereotactic radiosurgery, and stereotactic radiotherapy. 

The development of this product will provide a very cost-effective solution for metastatic spine tumors throughout the world.

  • Global Health Research Award at Harvard Medical School and Global Neurosurgery Award at World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies, 2019

I conducted intensive research on neurotrauma among patients in the world’s worst war zone in Syria. I have highlighted the lack of resources and the strategic plan to help victims of these conflict zones.

We are all humans before we are physicians, engineers, or any other profession, therefore I believe we should all maximize our efforts for treating and helping people regardless of caste, color, age, and creed. I am humbled enough to be a recipient of these noble awards for my services.

A lot of your research work seems to be related to artificial intelligence. Why is that?

I have proposed the idea quite vividly of the ‘automated neurosurgeon’—robotic software and automation is the future, hence it will also be dominating our surgical fields as well. These days there are great scientists who are working hard to come up with artificial intelligence software like augmented reality headsets, robotic-assisted machines, etc. However, these devices lack automation.

The operational framework NASA uses for its robots in space can be used in our surgical systems as well. The computer assisted vision, the sensors, and the simulation in the corresponding atmosphere will help to develop the automated surgeons. The systems that we are using now are actually ‘cobots’—we need to work hard to make them robots.

AI is also important for genetics in spine research. Genomics is one of the fields where the expectations for AI are very high. These computational approaches are required to integrate enormous volume of data generated by sequencing technologies and combine it in meaningful ways with other biological and clinical data.

AI will generate new insights from large-scale datasets and better streamline key analytical problems in genomic analysis. This technology is empowering all other clinical divisions, not only spine, as this is our future.

What are you looking forward to with future research?

I believe the whole world is now based on ‘computational modelling’ for smarter solutions. Machine learning and deep learning would be really very helpful in providing the best treatment plan for the patients worldwide. Most importantly, no person on earth would be discriminated in terms of getting best treatment if this technology is utilized effectively.

I believe best and affordable healthcare is a fundamental right for all human beings. These technologies would be the asset for underdeveloped and developing countries since the load of patients are more than overall resources.

Triaging and treatment done through AI would ultimately be beneficial both clinically and economically. Furthermore, training to physicians and surgeons in those poorly accessibly areas can be done free of cost so that the maximum number of people can benefit.

AO has been the best resource in this regard, in which almost all the great courses and events are carried out at minimal or free cost to surgeons. I believe other great organizations should follow the footsteps of AO to bring the best out of physicians and help people throughout the world.

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