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Artificial intelligence research to speed up cancer and heart care as part of NHS AI Lab

Published: 08 September 2020

New NIHR funding is accelerating the testing of cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in the NHS.

The AI tools and products are the first projects funded by the AI in Health and Care Award and will receive a share of funding totalling over £50 million. The funding forms part of the NHS Artificial Intelligence Lab and the award is managed by the Accelerated Access Collaborative in partnership with NHSX and NIHR.

A range of AI-powered innovations which can rapidly and accurately analyse breast cancer screening scans and assess emergency stroke patients will be tested and scaled, helping clinicians deliver the right treatment faster. 

Take-home technology could also see patients given devices and software that can turn their smartphone into a clinical grade medical device for monitoring kidney disease, or a wearable patch to detect irregular heartbeats, one of the leading causes of strokes and heart attacks.

The funding will also support the research, development and testing of promising ideas which could be used in the NHS in future to help speed up diagnosis or improve care for a range of conditions including sepsis, cancer and Parkinson’s.

The NHS is committed to becoming a world leader in the use of AI and machine learning, aiming to reap the benefits that range from faster and more personalised diagnosis to greater efficiency in screening services.

NIHR is managing phases 1 - 3 of the funding scheme, which support projects intending to test new concepts and prototypes with the potential for use in the NHS, including:

  • Odin Vision’s AI technology, which assists doctors to detect and characterise cancerous and pre-cancerous polyps during colonoscopy procedures.
  • A project at Imperial College London that will test a method to automatically and continuously recommend to clinicians the correct dose of medications for treating sepsis in individual patients, personalising treatment and potentially improving survival. 
  • University College London’s SamurAI system, which uses AI to learn when to stop or change the use of antibiotics to ensure they are only used when really necessary.
  • Lifelight software from Xim Limited that contactlessly measures blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygen levels in the blood using the camera on any smartphone. This project will collect data to allow Lifelight to measure blood pressure more accurately so it can diagnose high blood pressure more effectively.
  • A small table-top device, developed by Albus Health, that can automatically monitor a range of symptoms and metrics without patients having to do or wear anything, helping to predict preventable asthma attacks in children.

Later-stage funded products supported through phase 4 of the award include:

  • Healthy IO’s AI powered app that turns a smartphone into a clinical grade medical device capable of detecting albuminuria, an early warning sign of chronic kidney disease that could help patients with diabetes.
  • A wearable ECG monitoring patch and service by Irhythm Technologies, which uses AI-led processing and analysis to help diagnose atrial fibrillation
  • Digital tools used to assess emergency stroke patients from Brainomix, which will be shared to a number of NHS sites following recent successful deployment at Royal Berkshire NHS Trust.

The NHS AI Lab, announced by the Prime Minister last year, is a key part of the national health services’ efforts to drive up the use of innovative new technologies.

As part of the selection process each applicant had to commit to complying with the laws and regulations that protect health and care data, as well as the NHS’s Code of Conduct for data-driven technologies. This is ensuring that AI is developed in a safe, ethical, evidenced and transparent way that puts patient privacy first.

The AI in Health and Care Award will distribute £140m over three years, with the next round of applications set to open later this year.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive, said: “The NHS is determined to take advantage of the artificial intelligence revolution and ensure we are harnessing the latest and best technologies to improve care and save more lives.

“The technologies we’re funding today have the potential to transform how we deliver services such as screening tests, cancer treatment and brain surgery for thousands of patients right across the country.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The NHS has always spearheaded world-leading technologies that can transform and save lives, so it is vital we continue to harness the full potential of modern digital advances to help patients living with life-limiting illness and support our hardworking NHS staff.

“During the pandemic we have all seen the positive impact new technology can have – from our next generation rapid testing, to our machine-learning tools helping the NHS predict where beds and oxygen are needed - and I’m determined we continue down this path.

“Today’s funding will ensure the NHS can continue to fast-track pioneering artificial intelligence to the frontline, freeing up clinicians’ time and saving lives.”

Full list of funded projects (subject to contracting)

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