Tens of thousands of patients across the UK could benefit from quicker, earlier diagnoses and more effective treatments for a range of conditions – as the government invests nearly £16 million into pioneering artificial intelligence (AI) research.  

Nine companies have been awarded funding through the third round of the AI in Health and Care Awards, which is accelerating the testing and deployment of the most promising AI technologies. The awards were set up in 2019 to develop AI technology focused on helping patients manage long-term conditions, improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis, and ultimately help tackle the COVID backlogs and cut waiting lists. They are delivered between the NHS AI Lab, the Accelerated Access Collaborative, and the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

The winners include AI systems that can help detect cancer, diagnose rare diseases, identify women at the highest risk of premature birth, and support the treatment of neurological conditions like dementia. The funding will be used to support the testing, evaluation, and adoption of their technologies by the NHS.  

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said “AI has the potential to speed up diagnoses and treatments and free up time for our doctors and nurses so they can focus on caring for patients. Around 300,000 people have already benefited from companies supported by our AI awards, with tens of thousands more set to benefit.” 

Start-up Ibex has been awarded more than £1.5 million and it has developed an AI-driven algorithm to run checks for breast cancer. The technology analyses images of tissue extracts, helping pathologists detect cancer, so they can complete diagnoses more quickly. Its high accuracy rate could reduce the need for patients to repeat the biopsy process and free up more time for consultants.  

Another winner, medical device company Medtronic, has been rolling out devices and therapies to treat more than 30 chronic diseases, including Parkinson’s and diabetes, some of which are being trialed in the NHS. It has been awarded £2.5 million to further develop an AI-based medical device called GI Genius, which has been trained to process colonoscopy images and detect signs of colon cancer, enabling earlier more accurate diagnoses. 

The winners also include a consortium led by the University of Bristol which has already developed an online medical tool which is identifying pregnant women who are most at risk of giving birth prematurely or of developing complications that could lead to stillbirth. Tommy’s App has been created to process information gathered at pregnancy check-ups which then generated a risk score for each patient. This is used to provide personalized care recommendations, lowering the risk of preterm birth or stillbirth. The team will receive nearly £1.9 million in government funding to build on the clinical decision tool. Last year, data was published in obstetrics and gynecology journal BJOG, showing the tool can help reduce health inequalities in Black, Asian, and other pregnant women in ethnic minority groups. Researchers found perinatal death rates – those affecting pregnant women and others up to a year after giving birth – were 3 times higher in ethnic minority mothers. However, when the tool was used alongside targeted care, these rates fell to approximately the same across all the ethnic groups. 

Dominic Cushnan, Director of AI, Imaging, and Deployment at the NHS Transformation Directorate, said “the AI Award is helping to develop the clinical and economic evidence for AI technologies we need to help build confidence among the NHS workforce that these technologies can not only free up some of their time but safely support them in providing care for patients.”

Cutting NHS waiting times is one of the government’s top 5 priorities, backed by record funding including up to £14.1 billion for health and social care over the next 2 years. Advances in innovation and technology – including in robotics and artificial intelligence – will give patients greater control and help tackle some of the biggest healthcare challenges from cancer to genetic diseases. These kinds of innovations can free up staff time while speeding up treatments and diagnoses. 

This fascinating topic of AI strategies for healthcare leaders, along with others will be discussed at the annual AIMed Global Summit, scheduled for June 4-7th 2023 in San Diego. Book your place now! 

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