Technology that is enabling people to have conversations with famous faces through artificial intelligence is being applied to the world of persistent pain management in a project led by Teesside University.
Professor Denis Martin, Professor Cormac Ryan, Dr Sophie Suri and Dr Andrew Graham, from the University’s School of Health & Life Sciences, are collaborating with pain management champion Pete Moore and StoryFile, an American powerhouse in artificial intelligence (AI), on an exciting project which aims to help people manage persistent pain.
The project will see cutting-edge technology used to create an AI version of Pete, an internationally renowned expert in pain management, which will be fully interactive and accessible online, able to have conversations, answer questions and assist people with persistent pain.
The process involved Pete undergoing an intense interview process, answering hundreds of questions before being turned into an AI version of himself using StoryFile’s leading technology, which has also been used to preserve the life stories of Star Trek’s William Shatner, Holocaust survivors and a NASA astronaut.
The project could help millions of people living with persistent pain to improve their quality of life and find new methods of self-management.
It will sit alongside the Pain Toolkit, a leading resource created by Pete which includes guidance and useful information on self-management used by people with persistent pain conditions as well as healthcare professionals across the world.
Living with persistent pain, asthma and osteoarthritis himself, Pete took part in a pain management programme in the 1990s and became Senior Trainer in the NHS Expert Patient Programme.
He was named Pain Champion UK in 2014 in recognition of his contributions to pain management and has gone on to create a number of other useful resources including online workshops and a virtual café.
Pete, 68, who lives in Essex, said: “I’m honoured to be involved in this project. I’m just someone trying to help other people. Somewhere along the line there were people who helped me manage my persistent pain, so I think it’s my responsibility to pass it on and be that person for someone else.
“Pain is such a wicked condition to live with, it wears you down and has an emotional toll on people. Through this project, we’re hopefully making a big difference to people living with pain because it opens a dialogue and allows people to talk through their persistent pain with the AI version of me whenever they need to.
“Teesside University is leading the way in the use of this cutting-edge technology to make a real difference within healthcare. This project is truly a game changer.”
Denis Martin, Professor of Rehabilitation and Director of the Centre for Rehabilitation at Teesside University, who is leading the project, added: “One of our main priorities within the centre is to help people with persistent pain. As part of this, we have been focusing on the real-world applications of using cutting-edge technology within healthcare and what this means for both the patient and the medical professional.
“The AI agent will support pain management and provide a unique educational resource for our healthcare students. Talking to AI Pete will allow them to understand more about the experiences of those living with persistent pain and develop key skills and understanding in how to work with the patient and the condition.”
Dr Sophie Suri, Research Associate in the School of Health & Life Sciences, said: “We are thrilled to have been able to use this new and interesting approach to extend the reach of the Pain Toolkit. This project enables us to make a real difference to people living with persistent pain, boosting self-management and understanding, and that is very rewarding work.
“These new technologies are so exciting to work with, but our ultimate aim is to help real people. It’s all about the patient in healthcare, and this development has the potential to help millions.”
The innovative project forms part of Teesside University’s wider work in this area. Professor Cormac Ryan from the Centre for Rehabilitation is spearheading the national Flippin Pain campaign, which is making huge strides in how people perceive and manage persistent pain.
Dr Andrew Graham, Research Associate in the School of Health & Life Sciences, who is working on the Pain Toolkit project with Pete Moore, was also a finalist for a Braveheart Award at the prestigious Alliance Awards this year in recognition of his work in pain management.
He recently completed his PhD, exploring the need for a supported self-management approach to persistent pain conditions.
Dr Graham said: “Being named as a finalist for the Braveheart Award represents a huge achievement, not just in terms of my academic career but also in that the work we are doing to improve the lives of real people with persistent pain is being recognised.
“I feel privileged that my work could contribute to helping real people manage persistent pain and I am thrilled to be a part of the University’s exciting project working with Pete Moore and StoryFile to produce a game-changing resource. I look forward to discussing persistent pain with AI Pete once it has been completed.”
The collaborative project is part of the EU Interreg North-West Europe VR4Rehab project. It is supported and part-funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) and will be completed this winter.
Professor Martin leads the NIHR ARC North East and North Cumbria’s ‘Integrating Physical Health, Mental Health and Social Care’ research theme, and the project is an important part of the NIHR ARC NENC’s ongoing research around the management of persistent pain. Dr Suri’s work is funded by the NIHR ARC NENC.