Stopping Global Outbreaks Before They Start

Using artificial intelligence to synthesize all sorts of relevant data, BlueDot is like "a global early warning system for infectious diseases."

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In our globally connected world, infectious diseases can spread faster than ever before. But they can also infect just one person and stop in their tracks. BlueDot uses artificial intelligence to continuously monitor global data to provide an early warning system before outbreaks spread worldwide.

Founder and CEO Kamran Khan is also a scientist and associate professor of public health at the University of Toronto. He’s spent the past decade studying global outbreaks. He’s watched diseases emerge and spread faster than ever before, and his digital health company asks an important question: “How can we be a little bit more anticipatory and a little bit less reactive?”

“One of the pillars of epidemiology when it comes to data is being able to have a reporting system that is standardized across countries,” says Alexander Watts, Director of Insights at BlueDot.

Even rare diseases are expected to come up on a regular basis, says Watts. BlueDot aims to understand how diseases might recur and spread.

“Sometimes we’re looking at, for example, the extent where a mosquito that can carry a specific disease, is able to survive, and where there actually could be an outbreak versus seeing only one case in that area,” adds Carmen Huber, Spatial Analyst at BlueDot.

Based on everything we know about disease spreading, BlueDot is working on building an automated disease surveillance system. It needs to look through data in real time, around the clock, and be connected to the right institutions when urgent action is needed.

“We are building a global early warning system for infectious diseases and using artificial intelligence — things like natural language processing and machine learning — to process these vast amounts of data so we can pick up very rapidly news of an outbreak in different parts of the world. Maybe even before governments recognize them or have reported them,” explains Khan.

BlueDot solutions even tap into the entire world’s airline booking systems to track how people are moving, and based on where outbreaks are appearing, they predict how diseases might spread.

“We have literally reached the point where we can spread knowledge faster than the diseases themselves,” adds Khan. “We’re doing this in 12 countries today, but we’ve got aspirations to really be able to disseminate this knowledge to governments, to businesses, and to hospitals all across the planet.”

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Dr. Kamran Khan is an infectious disease physician and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and a Professor of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto. Motivated by his experiences as a frontline healthcare worker during the 2003 Toronto SARS outbreak, Khan has been studying outbreaks over the past 15 years to lay the scientific foundation for a global early warning system for infectious diseases.

His research has been published in scientific journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet, Science, Nature and Cell.

To translate and disseminate scientific knowledge into timely action, Khan founded Blue Dot, a digital health company that uses human and artificial intelligence to help governments protect their citizens, hospitals protect their staff and patients, and businesses protect their employees and customers from dangerous infectious diseases. His research during public health emergencies has led him into numerous advisory roles from the World Health Organization to the White House. Khan recently received a Governor General’s Award for his work transcending clinical medicine, public health, big data, and artificial intelligence. ​

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