Skip to main content

Using AI to detect Parkinson’s Disease

Associate Professor Oguz Akbilgic, PhD, is a data scientist with expertise in statistical modeling, machine learning, and deep learning for clinical decision making. He earned his doctorate in artificial neural networks, statistics, and applied mathematics from the Istanbul University. Prior to joining Loyola University Chicago’s Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health, Akbilgic was an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at the University of Tennessee. We sat down with Akbilgic to learn more about his research:  

In 2019, your team received funding from the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) for a study exploring the application of artificial intelligence to identify Parkinson’s disease. What inspired you to pursue this research? 

My lab had been implementing artificial intelligence (AI) for the detection and prediction of various cardiovascular diseases. Then, in 2018, I attended an interesting talk on Parkinson’s Disease by my colleague Dr. Samuel Goldman from the University of California - San Francisco. Dr. Goldman mentioned cardiac denervation as one of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Follow-up conversations between Dr. Goldman and my team lead my team to the idea that we may be able identify Parkinson’s Disease earlier using electrocardiogram data, a low cost and widely available diagnostic tool. Following our promising preliminary results, we received a generous research grant from MJFF to implement AI on electrocardiograms to identify Parkinson’s disease at its prodromal phase. 

What does it mean to receive this funding?  How has it advanced your study? 

It is a great and justifying feeling to receive this award from this prestigious foundation. Its mission is to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, and being part of that mission is an honor, but also brings a great deal of responsibility.  

You joined Loyola in 2019, when the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health opened. What has it been like being part of a new school? What impact have you had on the formation and development of the Health Informatics department? 

Although being a part of a new department at a new school comes with its challenges; it is exciting and offers opportunities to shape the department. At the Department of Health Informatics and Data Science, we have a chance to shape research and teaching approaches. I believe our department is one of the unique places in the nation with the capability of implementing advanced AI in cardiovascular disease detection and prediction as well as studying the connection between the brain and heart. 

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the health informatics field? 

Health informatics research requires easy access to all kinds of data collected from patients. Right now, there are several data stored in separate servers not linked to the clinical research data warehouse. By fostering increased collaboration between clinicians, hospital administration, and university investigators, we can improve the implementation and dissemination of health informatics tools in clinical practice, thus significantly improving patient care and reducing costs.  

Why should a student consider pursuing a career in health informatics? 

The era of AI is here, and the future of health care will not be the same. There has never been a better time for students to take an interest in health care systems and how they work. These changes in health care are and will be creating more and more jobs requiring expertise in health informatics. More importantly, while AI may be implemented in any discipline from robotics to history, the self-satisfaction for researchers in the health care domain is very high. 

Learn more about Health Informatics department at the Parkinson School of Health Scienes and Public Science.