Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during the daily briefing to update on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at 10 Downing Street, in London, United Kingdom June 8, 2020

Covid-19 chest imaging database to be used to develop AI tools

Image credit: Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street/Handout

The technology branch of the NHS, NHSX, has acquired a large database of images from Covid-19 patients across the UK. This database will be used to train an algorithm to inform a more accurate diagnosis of patients arriving in hospital.

The database brings together over 40,000 CT scans, MRIs and X-rays from more than 10,000 patients across the UK.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, access to this National Covid-19 Chest Imaging Database (NCCID) has been extended to hospitals and universities such that researchers and clinicians can use the images to track patterns and markers of illness.

It is hoped that access to this valuable resource could result in patients receiving faster treatment, with improved outcomes and shorter stays in hospital.

Clinicians at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, are using the NCCID to develop an algorithm to inform a patient’s Covid-19 diagnosis and prognosis when they are hospitalised with symptoms but have not yet had a confirmed test. Using visual signatures of the virus as they appear in chest scans, they are able to compare the patterns in the patient’s imaging with those in the database.

Understanding the earlier stages of Covid-19 means that clinicians will be able to better implement appropriate and early medical interventions, reducing the potential for subsequent complications. These interventions could include giving patients oxygen and medication before they reach a critical stage at which they must be moved to intensive care; this is vital while intensive care units are full in many hospitals and resources and staff are stretched.

Professor Carola-Bibiane Schönlieb, head of the University of Cambridge’s Image Analysis group, commented: “The NCCID has been invaluable in accelerating our research and provided us with a diverse, well-curated dataset of UK patients to use in our algorithm development. The ability to access the data for 18 different trusts centrally has increased our efficiency and ensures we can focus most of our time on designing and implementing the algorithms for use in the clinic for the benefit of patients.

“By understanding the early stages of disease, whether a patient is likely to deteriorate, we can intervene earlier to change the course of their disease and potentially save lives as a result.”

The NCCID is being used to help UCL and Bradford researchers develop other AI tools that could help clinicians optimise treatments for patients with Covid-19. It will also inform the potential development of a “national AI imaging platform” to collect and share patient data, with the aim of building AI tools to address other conditions, such as cancers and heart disease.

“The use of artificial intelligence is already beginning to transform patient care by making the NHS a more predictive, preventive and personalised health and care service,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock. “It is vital we always search for new ways to improve care, especially as we fight the pandemic with the recovery beyond. This excellent work is testament to how technology can help to save lives in the UK.”

Dominic Cushnan, Head of AI Imaging at NHSX, said: “We are applying the power of artificial intelligence to quickly detect disease patterns and develop new treatments for patients. There is huge potential for patient care, whether through quicker analysis of chest images or better identification of abnormalities. The industrial scale collaboration of the NHS, research and innovators on this project alone has demonstrated the huge potential and benefits of technology in transforming care.”

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