Maithra Raghu, Ph.D. '19, former advisee of Tisch University Professor Jon Kleinberg and currently a Senior Research Scientist at Google Brain, has been named one of the 2020 STAT Wunderkinds for her work on AI and medicine. STAT is a magazine produced by the Boston Globe's parent company that covers health tech and biotech. From the announcement:

STAT set out to celebrate the unheralded heroes of science and medicine, poring over hundreds of nominations from across North America in search for the next generation of scientific superstars. We were on the hunt for the most impressive doctors and researchers on the cusp of launching their careers, but not yet fully independent.

This year, as in past years, we’ve found inspiring stories and innovative research. All are blazing new trails as they attempt to answer some of the biggest questions in science and medicine.

The profile of Raghu by Erin Brodwin reads:

When will doctors and well-trained algorithms work together to get a patient the fastest and most appropriate care?

The question struck Maithra Raghu with renewed intensity when, after severely injuring herself skiing, she found the medical system unable to quickly pinpoint the exact source of her pain. 

As a senior researcher at Google Brain, Raghu has been working for years to build an interface between clinical artificial intelligence systems and human medical experts. Her injury—which turned out to be a torn ACL—spurred her to work toward a future where tools driven by machine learning and AI can help diagnose or triage patients so they can get the care they need faster. 

“My accident hammered home that there are shortages of medical professionals who can get inundated with so much information that triage is really important,” Raghu said.

To Raghu, that doesn’t mean a dystopian world where superintelligent AI tools wipe out human doctors. Rather, she envisions a more practical future where AI systems serve to enhance clinicians’ inherent humanity, both by taking over menial tasks like data entry and by flagging potential issues on an X-ray or an MRI—such as the spot in Raghu’s knee where she’d been hurt skiing.

One of Raghu’s recent projects involved presenting a set of clinical cases separately to a group of doctors and a trained AI system and soliciting their opinions. Then, they showed the cases to the doctors and the AI tool together so that the clinicians could take the tool’s take into account.

“My accident hammered home that there are shortages of medical professionals who can get inundated with so much information that triage is really important.”

“The combined approach performed way better than either one alone,” Raghu said. “I’m super excited about the ramifications of that.”

Related CS News coverage: Forbes “30 under 30” Names Ph.D. Candidate Maithra Raghu to its List