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Unlocking the power of medical images with AI for patient benefit and economic growth

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As the deadline for our centres of excellence in medical imaging competition looms, I am thinking of all those across the UK working feverishly on their applications. It is a challenging brief, and it’s great to see that companies, clinicians, academics and other experts are truly engaged in building strong consortia, and I am optimistic that we will see quality bids.

Robot hand turning a large gold coloured key in a digital lock

The competition is part of the Industrial Strategy’s Ageing Society grand challenge, being an important early investment from the Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine challenge theme.

Maximising the utility of medical images, AI and machine learning

UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £50 million, in 5 - 6 centres, that will work together to maximise the utility of medical images using AI and machine learning. Applications will be assessed over the summer and successful consortia will be informed at the end of September.

I was struck by Matt Hancock’s tweet, as he prepared to give his first speech as Secretary of State for Health & Social Care, in which he shared his intent to focus on 3 key themes:

  1. Workforce
  2. Technology
  3. Prevention

These themes resonate with the aims of the competition and more broadly with the challenge as a whole.

Robot standing in front of a large medical imaging screen pointing to part of the image

Demand for pathology services increasing

There has been no growth in the pathology workforce for some years, and the demand on services is increasing. It has been estimated that the gap in the workforce will be over 28% by 2021. Digitising and automating pathology will free up pathologists from many routine tasks, and allow images to be viewed from any location, enabling greater flexibility and a more even distribution of the workload.

Similarly, the demand for radiology services is also increasing and fewer people are entering the profession.

In 2016, the NHS spent nearly £88 million paying for backlogs of radiology examinations to be reported. Radiological practice would benefit from AI systems that can read and interpret multiple images quickly.

Hospital scanner with small icons indicating connectivity via wifi

Technologies will advance and converge, offering new and exciting capabilities

The longer-term vision is to integrate data collected from multiple technologies and sources including digital pathology, in-vivo imaging and omics technologies, and develop expert clinical decision support systems, that will identify the best care pathway and treatment regimen for individual patients.

The use of AI in imaging will improve efficiency in the NHS, provide earlier diagnosis at lower cost, and improve patient outcomes and experience. In addition, data analysis and AI will enable a better understanding of disease processes and result in new discoveries, giving rise to novel products and services and more tailor-made treatments regimens.

Moving towards disease prevention

Early diagnosis and disease prevention are interrelated, and tests can be used to define groups of individuals, who are at high risk of developing diseases, this opens up a number of opportunities, including monitoring, early diagnosis and intervention, and the possibility of new treatment options.

Robot standing in front of medical image looking at two cross sections of a human brain

A real opportunity for the UK

The successful centres, both individually and collectively, will stimulate inward investment and encourage the formation of regional clusters of high growth potential companies. Furthermore, the centres will work closely with the digital innovation hubs, also being created as part of this challenge, and other relevant UK infrastructure to maximise the impact of the funding.

In addition to the growth of a vibrant SME community, we would like to see global companies increase their UK footprint and invest more in research and development, manufacturing, jobs and facilities.

This is an exciting time in the UK, as a number of activities and strategies take shape - this competition, for example, also aligns with the recommendations of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, published by the Office of Life Sciences.

It has been a privilege to go on this Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund journey, with a multidisciplinary group of experts and visionaries, and I look forward to working closely with the successful bids, alongside my UK Research and Innovation colleagues, the Office of Life Sciences, Health Data Research UK, the NHS, and other key organisations, in England and the Devolved Administrations, to maximise the impact of this investment for the benefit of patients, health care, the companies and research organisations we support, and the UK economy.

Robot hand holding an old fashioned alarm clock

Competition information

Up to £50 million is available to establish centres of excellence in digital pathology and/or medical imaging with artificial intelligence (AI).

  • Competition opens: Wednesday 6 June 2018
  • Competition closes: Wednesday 1 August 2018 12:00pm

Apply to the Creating a network of digital pathology, imaging and AI centres competition


You can follow Penny Wilson on Twitter: @PennyWilson_IUK 

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