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New research lab promises wide benefits for Bermuda, the world

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Carika Weldon, PhD, MRSB, FIBMS founder/chief executive officer of CariGenetics Group, lecturer and biochemist/geneticist (Photograph supplied)

The pace of rapidly developing artificial intelligence will be transformative for a Bermudian’s effort to bring better healthcare to the world.

And the development of the CariGenetics Group, the Bermudian geneticist Carika Weldon’s promising start up, could slow the flow of healthcare money out of Bermuda’s economy and be a lynchpin in the new Bermuda’s healthcare reform.

While there is rising concern about the detrimental potential for AI’s runaway technology, it has already been groundbreaking in healthcare, reshaping the diagnoses, treatments and monitoring of patients.

This technology – truly in its infancy – is drastically improving healthcare research and outcomes by producing more accurate diagnoses and enabling more personalised treatments.

Dr Weldon will be one of the speakers on a panel at the upcoming 4th Annual International Tech Summit on April 11. The discussion is entitled: "AI Unleashed: Amplifying Human Potential".

In an interview with The Royal Gazette, she told us: “The field of genomics has two sides to the coin. Generation of data - which is what I do - where we take a blood or saliva sample, extract DNA and do genetic sequencing. This requires a skilled scientist who can be trained.

“The other side of the coin is the analysis of the data. This is currently the bottleneck because a whole human genome is 3 billion data points that needs filtering through, to find an answer.

Genomic analysis: artificial intelligence and machine learning will make a process that took years, months or weeks now only take a few minutes - Carika Weldon, PhD (File photograph)

“There is a dire need for more data scientists who analyse the data, bioinformaticians. Although they will be able to programme and code to allow the computer to help analyse, we have now entered the era where AI and machine learning are becoming integral in the future of genomic data analysis.

“In the same way that there is a lack of diversity on genomic data sets, there is also a lack of data analysis tools for diverse ethnicities. These tools would then be used to predict the risk of disease from someone’s genetics or predict what a genetic variant would do.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning will make a process that took years, months or weeks, now only take a few minutes.”

Dr Weldon is generating funding for her private company.

CariGenetics is an early stage genomics company that has raised the first million dollars of funding with assistance from the Bermuda Investor Community.

She is creating research aimed at advancing the understanding of global human health and disease.

She believes a path to that is by creating the world’s first secure, private genomic database and biobank of Caribbean species and human samples.

CariGenetics aims to unlock the Caribbean genome on the road to improving health outcomes for all, and even help build-in climate change protections.

A small, focused Bermudian crew has already made progress on their first project, using genetic sequencing to create the first reference genome for the endangered bird species, the cahow.

The idea was to establish genetic sequencing capacity in Bermuda, providing the ability for future projects.

Dr Weldon said: “We needed to train Bermudians in DNA extraction. That means there is an additional person in Bermuda, apart from me, who knows how to do it. We’re using a collaborator lab in Boston. We have other projects coming down the pipeline which we haven’t announced yet.”

Everything is a process.

But a key aim is to get to a point when operations can be monetised, when income can begin funding the research, when the research begins delivering promising results, when investors can foresee a positive result – and a business result.

Coming out of all of this, said Dr Weldon, Bermuda could develop its own genetic sequencing centre.

“In the Caribbean and elsewhere in research, there are many who don’t do their own genetic sequencing, when they do projects. That is business exported abroad. Why not here?

“An early ultimate goal is to get into clinical genetic testing, because all of that is sent out of Bermuda and out of the Caribbean. So, that’s a lot of money paid eventually by insurance companies, but leaving the economy.

“We want to be the local provider in both Bermuda and the Caribbean.”

“But on the research side, if we can build the Caribbean database to the critical number we need, that’s when the pharmaceutical companies become interested.”

She told us that such companies are looking for diverse data because they are trying to design drugs for everyone. They will pay to access a useful database, helping them to design drugs for different groups of people. Drugs interact with different groups of people, differently.

She said: “But it is also good as a resource for clinical trials. We’re just at the early stages.”

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Published April 03, 2023 at 7:52 am (Updated April 03, 2023 at 7:52 am)

New research lab promises wide benefits for Bermuda, the world

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