National Cancer Institute Awards Grant

Prof. Timothy Bickmore, in collaboration with co-PI Michael Paasche-Orlow, MD, at Boston Medical Center (BMC), was just awarded a 5-year, $4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop animated conversational agents to help patients navigate oncology clinical trials.

The “Research Ethics and Safety Promoted by Embodied Conversational Technology” (RESPECT) project was funded through NIH’s Ethical Issues In Human Subjects Research program to help ensure ethical treatment of participants in oncology trials, by ensuring that all patients understand informed consent documents and study protocols, irrespective of their health, reading or computer literacy abilities.

Prof. Bickmore has spent the last decade developing conversational agents that counsel patients about health-related topics and Dr. Paasche-Orlow is a national expert on health literacy, especially related to patient understanding of research informed consent documents. The current effort builds on a five-year collaboration between them to develop agent-enhanced explanation of informed consent and other healthcare documents for patients with limited health literacy.

The project will involve the development of conversational agents that: 1) help candidates find clinical trials they are eligible for and interested in among the 1,000 active trials at BMC; 2) explain research informed consent documents to participants and assess their comprehension; and 3) monitor participants during oncology trials to promote adherence to study protocols and automatically report adverse events to the research staff, the Data Safety and Monitoring Board and the Institutional Review Board (IRB), as appropriate. The advisory committee for the effort involves members of the BMC IRB and national experts on clinical trials and ethics.