Why Nils Daniel Forkert is a 2021 Top 40 Under 40: Nils Daniel Forkert develops software, computer algorithms and machine-learning models to help doctors select treatments with more precision, diagnose with more accuracy and predict diseases.
Nils Daniel Forkert is teaching computers to identify complex and subtle differences between people so doctors can help patients with more precision than ever. Forkert launched the Medical Image Processing and Machine Learning Lab at the University of Calgary in 2014, where his research is at the intersection of computer science and medicine. “We use data to develop sophisticated machine-learning models that we can then use to make better diagnoses in new patients, to treat patients better and even to prevent diseases before they develop,” he says.
Forkert’s models help medical professionals compare individual patient data to historical data to identify similar patterns. Currently, his lab is building a machine-learning model that automatically predicts which anti-seizure drug could work best for patients diagnosed with epilepsy. He has also developed tools to diagnose or predict treatment outcomes for patients with depression, stroke and Parkinson’s disease, and he is analyzing data from children with COVID-19 to understand why some are affected severely while others aren’t.
Forkert’s research led to the incorporation in March 2020 of Calgary-based company Deep Surface AI. At any given time, he and the 16 students he mentors work with up to 30 clinicians.
He estimates that he has developed “more than a hundred” new machine-learning models and image-analysis algorithims. In just seven years, his medical-imaging and machine-learning lab has grown to be one of the biggest in Canada.
“We can save a lot of money in the health care system if we diagnose earlier and we give better, personalized treatments to the patient,” Forkert says. “And if we can prevent these diseases to start with, that hugely impacts our health care system.”
“I would like to thank my wife Sarah; my parents Ursula and Ronald; my mentors Heinz Handels, Mike Moseley and Bruce Pike; and my wonderful trainees and students and many clinical and basic science collaborators.” – Nils Daniel Forkert