Cancer cells

Government grant funding for study on use of AI for breast cancer

The government have granted funding to researchers in the UK, to study the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for breast cancer screening in NHS hospitals. The research will involve clinicians from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, using previous research carried out by Imperial College London as a bases.

The earlier research suggested that the use of AI could be as effective as human radiologists, when spotting breast cancer from X-ray images. This was able to demonstrate the potential for this technology to improve outcomes for patients through early diagnosis. 

The funding for of this project is supported by the Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award (AIHC). It forms one of several projects announced yesterday by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHSX and the NIHR. The AIHC Award will make £140m available over four years to increase the testing and analysis of AI technologies, ensuring the goals are met in the NHS Long Term Plan.

The AIHC Award is one of the programmes making up the NHS AI Lab, led by NHSX and delivered in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) and NIHR. The Award is part of the £250m funding given by the DHSC to NHSX, in order to create AI Labs to improve patients’ lives.

Dr Deborah Cunningham, Consultant Radiologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “We are very excited to be able to work with colleagues assessing this new AI tool in screening mammogram interpretation in a real-world situation for the first time. There is a national shortage of clinicians qualified to interpret screening mammography and this product has the potential to mitigate this problem, while improving early breast cancer diagnosis, benefiting a large number of asymptomatic well women.”

As part of the projects next stages, diagnostic AI tools will be assessed in a clinical setting to understand how the technology might be integrated into the national screening programme going forward. 

Professor the Lord Ara Darzi of Denham, Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, and Chief Investigator on the project, said: “Our early work in this area has shown that using algorithms to screen for breast cancer is feasible. This next step will be our first real life test of AI as part of a national screening programme. 

“AI is not designed to replace healthcare workers, whose clinical training and experience are invaluable to the NHS. Ultimately, we hope these tools could help to reduce the current burden on radiologists and the NHS, improving outcomes for patients through earlier detection and treatment of cancer.”

The funding was also awarded to, St George’s Hospitals NHS FT, and the Royal Surrey NHS FT, to determine the accuracy of an AI-model, to examine how radiologists and clinicians interact with the system, and assess its use in a clinical setting. 

Before any work is undertaken, all research will be subject to National Research Ethics for approval, and the AI system won’t be used in patient care or to make clinical decisions during the study.

Lord Darzi concluded: “It is only through these kinds of partnerships, which bring together expertise from academia, healthcare and the commercial sector, that we can leverage the very best technology for the greatest benefit to global health.”

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