Sprint Artificial Intelligence Training for African Medical Imaging Knowledge Translation (SPARK)

5 min readFeb 1, 2024

SPARK`s mission is to provide case-based training on medical image analysis and the application of AI methods to diagnostic imaging to African data science communities and imaging researchers. We are dedicated to inspiring local communities to develop home-grown medical solutions using AI and providing them with the tools and resources to succeed.

The limited infrastructure and lack of skilled personnel are major barriers to implementing AI solutions for healthcare in resource-limited settings, particularly across Africa. SPARK is committed to empowering African data science communities and imaging researchers to develop deployable imaging diagnostic tools that will optimize their infrastructures and assist clinicians in providing high-value care to bridge health disparity gaps between Africa and the rest of the world. SPARK is one of the training platforms of the Consortium for Advancement of MRI Education and Research in Africa (CAMERA) offered through the Medical Artificial Intelligence (MAI) Lab at Crestview Radiology Ltd., Lagos, Nigeria, and the Multimodal Imaging of Neurodegenerative Disease (MiND) Lab, McGill University, Montreal, Canada. The SPARK program, endorsed by the Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention (MICCAI) Society, represents a comprehensive training program aimed at building a community of experts in artificial intelligence (AI) for medical imaging across Africa.

Training Approach:

In 2023, the inaugural program trained residents, graduate students, and professionals in radiology, oncology, neurosurgery, and computational disciplines to nurture a multidisciplinary community of proficient AI personnel. SPARK uses a curriculum that is case-based and a train-the-trainer model to provide free access to hands-on skill development.

This model adopts the RAD-AID Teach-Try-Use strategy as illustrated above and implements it as three training blocks in ten weeks, comprising of foundational courses (Teach), a hybrid hackathon (Try), and a guided practicum (Use). This provides participants with theoretical knowledge, hands-on experience, and practical application skills.

SPARK Impact Numbers and Geographic Distribution of the 2023 BraTS-Africa Program showing in-person laboratories (orange) and virtual (yellow) trainees that participated in the program.

The inaugural SPARK Academy, in collaboration with McMedHacks, supported by McGill University Graduate Mobility Awards and Compute Canada, took place from April 3rd to August 31st, 2023. The program focused on addressing the pressing issue of cancer diagnosis in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with an emphasis on preparing trainees to participate in the 2023 MICCAI brain tumor segmentation challenge (BraTS). SPARK 2023 yielded remarkable results, with the development of 10 AI models, 8 of which were part of the MICCAI brain tumor segmentation (BraTS) Challenge competition. One of SPARK`s team models named “Bridging the Gap secured the second position at the competition and was presented at the MICCAI 2023 conference, while other models were showcased at Deep Learning Indaba 2023. Beyond training, SPARK’s influence extends to the translation of AI-DL projects into tangible enhancements of clinical practices, and in growing a computational AI community in Africa. The 2023 program evaluation by the participants underscored the positive impact of the program on their knowledge, skills, and perception of AI.

“What I liked the most about SPARK was how the instructors managed to simplify complex concepts of artificial intelligence and medical imaging. They made the topics accessible and exciting, which greatly increased my interest in the field. Additionally, the hands-on sessions in small groups fostered an interactive environment conducive to learning and collaboration. This unique approach really helped solidify my understanding and prepare me for real-world applications”…. 2023 SPARK Academy Participant Testimonial

Support from McGill

The McGill Graduate Mobility Awards and Doctoral Internship Awards played a pivotal role in supporting the SPARK initiative. During its pilot phase, SPARK sent four McGill doctoral and master’s students to Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania through the awards. Their mission was to facilitate onsite training for the teams located in these countries, implement imaging research best practices, and ignite intercontinental collaboration among peers. Graduate students from various locations in Canada and the United States offered remote support to the rest of the teams, and together, the North American students gained valuable leadership skills and forged lasting connections.

Future Prospects:

Visit our web page: https://event.fourwaves.com/spark

SPARK Academy envisions training at least 100 participants annually, contributing to AI and medical imaging capacity building in Africa. Each program will develop novel medical imaging AI methods, contribute to open science, and foster a collaborative culture through engagements with imaging and data science organizations and participation in global events such as data challenges and competitions. The program will continue to expand to other regions in need around the world, in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Participants from past programs will return as trainers to help train more people and continue to grow the community of practice around the world. We are looking for more French, Spanish, and Portuguese imaging experts and researchers to join our faculty to help us expand our reach.

This year’s program — SPARK 2024, will run from April 1st to August 3rd, 2024, and will once again train and prepare participants for the MICCAI 2024 as the annual meeting comes to Africa for the first time. The application for SPARK 2024 closes on 28th February 2024. We look forward to seeing you at SPARK and at MICCAI 2024 in Morocco.

Learn more and apply: https://event.fourwaves.com/spark/registration

Contact us to learn how you can participate. We firmly believe we can, and indeed, with your support, we will!

For additional details, visit https://event.fourwaves.com/spark, or reach out to us via email at spark@mailab.io or info.camera.mri@gmail.com.

To learn more about CAMERA’s projects and mission to democratize medical imaging, visit our website at https://www.cameramriafrica.org and follow us on X (formerly Twitter) at https://twitter.com/cameraafrica.

Acknowledgment: SPARK is grateful for the support and dedication of its faculty and partner institutions, who have contributed their time and resources to help achieve the program’s objectives. We thank the Brain and Mind Institute at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya, Mboa Lab Biotech, Cameroon, and other research laboratories across Africa who generously provide the training facilities for onsite hackathons. The SPARK Academy is funded by the Lacuna Fund, Healthy Brains and Healthy Lives (HBHL), The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) , and training platform support from Fourwaves.




CAMERA is a global network of MRI experts implementing approaches that advance MRI access in LMICs through training, networking & research capacity building.