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2020 Year in Review

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Happy Holidays Card

More than a century ago, Albert Einstein introduced his seminal paper on special relativity that described, mathematically, the inexorable relationship between space and time. While this work continues to transform understanding of the natural world and our universe, it also gave rise to a curious scenario: based on special relativity principles, if a traveler leaves earth to visit a distant star and then returns, upon arrival the home world will have aged faster relative to the traveler’s measured time. This phenomenon is also referred to as time dilation. Reflecting on the events of 2020, all that has happened, it seems we have new appreciation of time dilation as the interstellar travelers – sequestered in our homes, peering out from behind videoconference screens and masks, far away from the society and the lives we knew – and now returning disoriented to an aged, changed world, marked by accelerated technology adoption and achievements in medicine and vaccines.

Where are we now? The AIMI Center too has undergone accelerated maturation. While only one year has elapsed from our perspective, the events and accomplishments of the center suggest instead many years have gone by. We now have more than 110 affiliated AIMI faculty from all over the world – and in the past year alone published more than 150 peer-reviewed clinical AI manuscripts. Last year also saw an expansion of our data sharing efforts; the AIMI Center has now contributed to and released more open AI-ready annotated clinical datasets to the global research and education community than all other centers combined. We led and contributed to the 2020 RSNA open medical imaging AI challenge, which involved thousands of volunteers to assemble and nearly 800 teams competing from all over the world to achieve open-source state-of-the-art model solutions for pulmonary embolism detection. The AIMI Symposium was also launched in 2020 featuring luminaries from across medicine, AI, computer science, ethics, and technology, streamed by more than 5 thousand attendees globally.

AIMI also experienced an outsized expansion in community engagement. Our affiliates program, which had only 2 partners at the beginning of the year, now includes 14 - this successful effort has led to more than $25M of support and has catalyzed the expansion of our broad-reaching research and education programs throughout our growing network. Also, our successful seed grant program expanded, adding more than a dozen new high impact visionary projects to the AIMI research portfolio and providing opportunities for new investigators. A similar acceleration in extramural funding occurred for both AI science and clinical trials awarded to AIMI faculty leadership, including NIH supported studies for AI solutions in patient care and creating a large publicly accessible resource of COVID-19 images and related clinical information.

This year featured the launch of many successful AIMI educational and engagement offerings, including content for medical experts without technical backgrounds to learn the fundamentals of machine learning in healthcare, distributed widely on Coursera. We also launched the AIMI journal club, where the authors of important clinical AI research present and discuss their work on the frontiers of science, providing insights, access, and visibility to our open community. Another new program, AIMI Office Hours, is an opportunity for faculty and students from across campus to consult with and learn from AIMI Center experts on an ongoing basis. The AIMI Happy Hour program, which has been streamed by thousands, brings together clinical AI experts from around the world to discuss current events and has broadened the visibility and accessibility for clinical AI work within Stanford and globally. We also held an open AIMI forum on racial justice and have made commitments to actionable change arising from these and other critical conversations around bias and inequities in our communities.

The AIMI Center faculty leadership more than doubled in the past year. First, at the associate director level, with the addition of seven brilliant leaders with diverse domain expertise such as Pathology, Computer Science, Data Science, Image Acquisition, Clinical Implementation, Pediatrics, Research and Education, and Ethics and Policy. We also welcomed a new AIMI Center co-director, Nigam Shah, whose pioneering efforts in EMR biomedical data analysis and clinical translation complement existing core AIMI expertise in clinical imaging. As healthcare systems look to draw from experienced scientists and clinicians to build clinical AI programs, the AIMI Center serves as a reservoir of broad interdisciplinary expertise to meet the needs of the future. 

While we reflect on our achievements, we are remiss not to draw a more sobering parallel to the events of past year. Just as the pandemic ravaged our global society, the AIMI Center and Stanford family also experienced great tragedy in the untimely death of our founding visionary, mentor, friend, and leader Sam Gambhir. His death reverberated across our Stanford family and around the world. The overwhelming outpouring of grief from all corners of the scientific and medical community reflected the impact of a great human who left us far too soon. Sam’s vision fundamentally transformed clinical and research activities in basic science, translational, and clinical applications across the entire healthcare ecosystem. But Sam was known best to those close to him for his endless compassion, generosity, humor, and humility. Simply put: he inspired us all to push our own limits in the quest for knowledge, always with a sprinkle of his irresistible charm. He will be forever remembered in our hearts as we forge a path forward without him. We miss you Sam. Rest in peace dear friend. 

Today, amidst the final descent toward home in our year-long journey, we return to an aged society that is, just like AIMI, marked both by tragedy and unthinkable achievements. Our world has changed. But have we, fellow time dilation travelers, changed as well? If it was impossible to know what awaited us in 2020, it seems somehow even more difficult to predict 2021. In our search for guidance and meaning we turn back to Einstein: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. For the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” 

On behalf of the AIMI Center, we truly thank you for everything you do to support this extraordinary community. So, here’s to another year ahead, filled with new hope, new achievements, and most of all, new mystery.

- Curt Langlotz, Matt Lungren, Nigam Shah, Johanna Kim