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Could embracing AI improve bowel cancer screening?

Image credit: Saša Prudkov/Dreamstime

The University of Glasgow is collaborating with the NHS and Scottish tech companies to use artificial intelligence (AI) to determine which patients need bowel cancer screenings.

The £3.4m project - dubbed 'Integrated Technologies for Improved Polyp Surveillance' (INCISE) - will help the university’s academics predict which patients might develop future tumours and pre-cancerous lesions, otherwise known as polyps.

It has been suggested that the current guidelines for clinicians are not accurate, meaning many people undergo unnecessary and invasive procedures, while only one in 20 people in Scotland are found to have cancer at a colonoscopy.

To help eradicate this issue, the new precision tool will identify patients who would benefit the most from a colonoscopy so they are seen earlier and any cancer can be treated sooner. 

Professor Joanne Edwards, of Translational Cancer Pathology at the university’s Institute of Cancer Sciences, welcomed funding from the UK government for the project.

“We are thrilled to receive this support and funding from Innovate UK, which will help us develop a programme that will hugely benefit both patients and our NHS,” she said. “The University of Glasgow has wide experience in all aspects of colon cancer.”

The experts on the project will combine data from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s Scottish Bowel Cancer Screening Programme with new analysis of the genetic mutations that causes polyps to grow.

Edwards added: “By combining our knowledge with industry partners and the NHS, we can harness the power of artificial intelligence to assess which patients are prone to polyps and need further colonoscopies.

“By better predicting the needs of individuals, we can help patients avoid procedures that do not benefit them while reducing the burden and cost to the NHS.”

Earlier this year, the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center published a study which suggested AI could one day be used to help cancer patients start their radiation therapy sooner, thereby decreasing the odds of the cancer spreading. 

In April 2019, engineers at UCL adapted technology previously used to reliably transfer data between the Earth and spacecraft to create a system that can improve detection rates for bowel cancer.

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