Doctors diagnosing lung cancer

Five new UK medical centres to adopt AI for disease diagnosis

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The government has announced that five medical technology centres will be established, which will be dedicated to using artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate disease diagnosis.

The centres will be based at existing universities and NHS hospitals in London, Oxford, Coventry, Glasgow and Leeds, including the London Medical Imaging and Artificial Intelligence Centre for Value-Based Healthcare. The centres are expected to open during 2019.

As part of its new industrial strategy – which promises to raise overall government R&D investment (potentially from 1.7 to 2.4 per cent) – the government is planning to increase public investment in advanced technologies, such as AI for medical purposes, battery technology, quantum devices and autonomous vehicles. The £50m in funding for the five centres will come from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which is managed by UK Research and Innovation.

The centres will be dedicated to applying AI technologies to medical imaging; both by digitising images taken during scans and biopsies in order to spot anomalies which could indicate early signs of disease and by developing entirely new products to help improve early diagnosis.

“AI has the potential to revolutionise healthcare and improve lives for the better,” said Business Secretary Greg Clark. “That’s why our modern Industrial Strategy puts pioneering technologies at the heart of our plans to build a Britain fit for the future.”

“The innovation at these new centres will help diagnose disease earlier to give people more options when it comes to their treatment and make reporting more efficient, freeing up time for our much-admired NHS staff to spend on direct patient care.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken out about the enormous potential benefits of introducing machine learning techniques to diagnosis within the NHS; in a speech in May, she commented that NHS staff using AI to identify cases of cancer at earlier stages – such as by bringing together medical imaging data with details of patient age, lifestyle, history and genetics – could save up to 22,000 lives every year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has been outspoken in his desire to bring new and existing digital technologies into public healthcare in order to make the NHS the most technologically advanced public healthcare system in the world, said: “[AI] will play a crucial role in the future of the NHS and we need to embrace it by introducing systems which can speed up diagnoses, improve patient outcomes, make every pound go further and give clinicians more time with their patients.”

“As part of our long-term plan, we will transform the NHS into an ecosystem of enterprise and innovation that allows technology to flourish and evolve.”

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