WHEN PROFESSOR Yan Liu was growing up in Changchun, China, her father wanted her to become a doctor like him. When she chose computer science, “I was a tiny bit disappointed,” Xiwen Liu, a retired anesthesiologist, acknowledges.
But their worlds collided in 2011, when the elder Liu was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was a surprise. At 67, he was relatively young, had a healthy lifestyle and had no symptoms. Like many of the 1.2 million men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, he had surgery to remove tumors in his prostate, but he suffered from incontinence, bleeding and infections for years after the surgery.
Nearly 6,000 miles away, at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Yan Liu felt helpless.
“The complications involved with prostate cancer surgery brought my dad significant personal challenges,” says Liu, a professor of computer science, electrical and computer engineering and biomedical sciences. “Even with access to the best doctors and hospitals, he experienced pain, slow recovery and long-term side effects.”
Liu resolved to use her skills to help others like her father. Working on research at the intersection of artificial intelligence and health care for more than a decade, she teamed up in 2016 with Dr. Andrew Hung, a urologist at Keck Medicine of USC, to create AI tools that measure and help improve surgeons’ technical skills during the radical prostatectomy procedure — the removal of the entire prostate gland.
By harnessing deep learning algorithms, their system learns from past movements to identify specific areas where a surgeon can improve during a robotic surgery. Together, Hung and Liu have since published more than 17 peer-reviewed papers in this field and recently received a $3 million award from the National Institutes of Health to advance their research.
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Published on March 27th, 2023
Last updated on March 27th, 2023