National | Māori

Māori children experience alarming rates of brain cancer, researchers to investigate causes using AI

A team at Auckland University is using artificial intelligence to help children affected by brain tumours, one-third of whom are Māori. An increase in the condition has confounded experts.

Thomas Park, a senior research fellow at Auckland University’s Centre for Brain Research, and his team of experts, will feed hundreds of brain tumour samples into artificial intelligence, which will then analyse the samples to find similarities. It’s an extremely slow process if done by human hand but quite a simple process for AI.

Chris Tse from Brain Tumour Support says the incident rate for Māori children is quite baffling and is calling for more money for research.

“In children aged 0–14, 33% of the cases were in Māori children and as I say, we don’t know the reason why that is.”

“We are calling out for more funding for research into brain tumours and brain cancer in New Zealand, particularly for our children. It’s heartbreaking to see children go through this terrible disease.”

Park says this is where AI can come into its own; it can use multiple testing processes to find links between patients, as well as find trends between samples that human intelligence just can’t keep up with.

‘Making something complicated simple’

“Throughout my career, computer programming, artificial intelligence, just the computing power exponentially rose and now that’s allowing us to do things that we just could not dream of.”

“I’m always of the idea that good science will make something complicated simple. That’s where we want to take this model to be able to predict what that tumour might be doing and, hence, give them the right treatment.”

Awhina Pearce has just come on board the project for her one-year honours research. She says AI can help everyone suffering from brain cancer, not just Māori.

“We are identifying certain components of them and the idea is to take that and incorporate that knowledge into an artificial intelligence.”