The process of assessing the health of a donor kidney requires the expertise of a Histopathologist, and can be a long process.
“Many people are waiting for a kidney transplant, and in the meantime, they have to be on dialysis. It’s not a great quality of life,” Federica explained.
As the demand for donated kidneys continues to rise, scientists have increasingly looked to older donor organs. But because kidney function decreases with age, these organs require an extra layer of scrutiny – scrutiny that takes time, time that some donor recipients may not have. Histopathologists are in short supply, and most still rely on traditional microscopes to access biopsied kidney samples.
Enter SAS Data Scientists Federica Citterio and Matteo Landró. Working in partnership with the University of Cambridge, they’ve developed a system that automatically assesses the quality of donor kidneys, speeding up the process of determining if a kidney is healthy enough to transplant.
How it works
The system automates the analysis of medical images of donor kidney biopsies using artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision models. Essentially, it uses technology to make decisions about a kidney’s health, and then uses those decisions to assign the kidney a quality score – just like what a histopathologist would do. Using the score, doctors can decide whether the kidney is healthy enough to transplant. If it’s too damaged, they move on to a different kidney.
“This technology has the potential to save lives,” Matteo said.
He’s right – in 2019, 5 people per week passed away while waiting for a kidney transplant in the United Kingdom. Using this technology to quickly assess donor kidneys, doctors estimate that they could perform up to 120 more transplants each year – and save up to £3.5 million.
Curiosity at the heart
Federica and Matteo’s work is fueled by passion, curiosity and creativity: “In our work, there are mathematical and statistical components, but curiosity and creativity also play a major role,” explains Matteo. “Especially for these complex problems, there isn’t a straightforward solution. Curiosity is essential.”
I’ve always been curious about using math and numbers to create positive change - Federica Citterio, Data Scientist, SAS
“Everywhere you look, there’s potential to use data to make the human experience better. To make that potential a reality, there needs to be collaboration. In this case, collaboration between physicians and data scientists,” explains Federica. “I’ve always been curious about using math and numbers to create positive change,” she says. “If you can help more people receive kidneys, you’re changing lives.”
Living the #saslife
Federica and Matteo are both Data Scientists at our SAS Italy office and have worked closely together since the beginning of their SAS journey, starting in the same early-career cohort. They were even hired on the same day, by the same manager! Since then, they’ve partnered on several projects in addition to working with Cambridge University. “We’re very different, but our skills and backgrounds work well together to bring these projects to life,” Matteo shared.
As data scientists, every day is different: “We work on all kinds of different projects,” explains Matteo. “This was a computer vision project, but tomorrow it might be anomaly detection or forecasting or something else,” he said.
To bring projects of this scale to life, Federica and Matteo say it’s a group effort: “Something I like about working at SAS is all the collaboration – on a huge project like this, we need different people and minds collaborating. It’s not just about splitting up the work – it's really about sharing a passion to create something great,” Federica shared. “The passion at SAS is contagious!”
“It’s been three years since we joined SAS, and I feel like I’ve grown and learned so much,” Federica added. “I’m so proud to work here.”
Outside the office
Outside the office, you’ll find Federica spending time with friends and practicing her juggling and unicycling skills – she’s up to 5 balls, and yes, she can do them both at the same time! “Being a data scientist is a lot like juggling,” she laughs. “A bit of computer science, a bit of math, a bit of business acumen and a lot of creativity and making it work together at the same time.”
As for Matteo, you’ll find him exploring the great outdoors: “In the summer I enjoy hiking in the Alps and playing tennis. In the winter, I ski. Now I’m learning how to windsurf!”
We’re inspired by Federica and Matteo’s curiosity and drive to make a difference! To read more about SAS’ partnership with Cambridge University, check out this article.
Thinking about joining the #saslife? At SAS, you can make a living while making a difference. Explore open roles and learn about our culture.