Dr. Maria Sakalaki started her AI Journey together with Apple Heart Study at Stanford

AI Exchange
Dr Maria Sakalaki interviewed by a person.

"My research project, together with Stanford School of Medicine, became the starting point for a long-term national collaboration project between the leading hospitals in Sweden and Stanford School of Medicine."

Dr. Maria Sakalaki

You are a cardiologist and PhD student who has completed an Innovation and Technology Fellowship Program, a two-year innovation program for physicians at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. This summer, you went to Stanford University and conducted research as part of the Apple Heart Study, combining cardiology and AI.


How did this happen?

– In the group of doctors who have completed the Innovation and Technology Fellowship Program, we worked on identifying important initiatives in health and innovation. Peter Kelly, who was responsible for the first group that completed the program, was in contact with Apple, and with their help, we were put in touch with the research group at Stanford. He connected me to Minna Sandberg at Nordic Innovation House Silicon Valley, who helped facilitate many aspects of the visit.

We soon came to the conclusion that there might be an opportunity for collaboration in a smaller project around data collection via the Apple Heart Study. Among other things, the group has looked at whether it is as effective as the long-term ECG tool used today. I spent 6 weeks in Silicon Valley, from May to June 2023, and I financed this trip through various scholarships, including funding from Vinnova for research and innovation exchange called AI Staff Exchange.

One of the reasons why Stanford is so interesting is because of its proximity to Silicon Valley and the tech industry. There are many other areas, but I find it unique that hospitals, universities, and companies are located so close to each other.


What did you do?

– I was a part of a research group and worked closely with the PhD students at Stanford to learn about how they work on various research projects. The intention was not only to work on traditional clinical research in my own project but also to gain experience in how Stanford works with innovation and AI. For example, how do the researchers make use of innovations from nearby Silicon Valley? Additionally, I hope to network with the aim of increasing the exchange between Sahlgrenska University Hospital and Stanford.


What happened after your visit?

– Coming back to Sweden, I brought back several insights how we in Sweden possibly work to create even more innovation. I have continued to work together with the Apple Heart Study, in two different areas. We’re aiming for long-term research collaboration and I see working together with researcher in California as natural part of my future career. I’m looking forward to possibly returning to Stanford in the future, or perhaps invite research colleagues from Stanford to visit Sahlgrenska!


What is your advice to others who want to do research abroad?

– That it is possible! You can just pick up the phone, call, and ask. That’s how we did it. And it is possible to get funding by applying for scholarships. Be prepared that it will take time, but it will be worth the time and energy to put it together. And don’t forget that it may be possible to bring the family along.


You were a part of a delegation trip with representatives from other university hospitals in Sweden, what did you get out from that?

– By being a part of the delegation trip within AI and Precision Health to Silicon Valley Bay Area in June 2023, I gained new insights and knowledge from visiting forefront researchers at Stanford University and UC Berkeley, as well as technology giants such as Nvidia. I became friends with AI and health specialists from Sweden, and we are now jointly planning to broaden the scope of my initial collaboration project at Stanford’s Apple Heart Study, making it a national Swedish project, including Karolinska Institute in Region Stockholm and Hallands Hospital in Region Halland.

Dr Maria Sakalaki smiling sitting around a table with more people in a meeting setting.

How have Minna Sandberg and Swenode.AI helped you during this process?
Minna has been a great supporter in connecting me with the Silicon Valley AI ecosystem, researchers in Sweden, and in the process of applying for funding from Vinnova. She is a big reason how this exchange could become a reality for me.

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