Leeds researchers have been awarded a £10.1m investment from UK Research and Innovation to expand a digital pathology and artificial intelligence programme across the North of England.
Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), announced the investment, as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
Roche Diagnostics Limited welcomed the announcement of national funding which will allow the creation of a digital pathology clinical network and research programme.
The successful partnership bid led by the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals embraces a network of nine NHS hospitals, seven universities, Roche Diagnostics and a further nine industry-leading medical technology companies, called the Northern Pathology Imaging Co-operative (NPIC).
The investment of £10.1m from UK Research and Innovation is boosted by an initial investment of £7m from industry.
The consortium is now set to become a globally-leading centre for applying artificial intelligence (AI) research to cancer diagnosis.
Business Secretary, Greg Clark said: “AI has the potential to revolutionise healthcare and improve lives for the better. That’s why our modern Industrial Strategy puts pioneering technologies at the heart of our plans to build a Britain fit for the future.
“The innovation at these new centres will help diagnose disease earlier to give people more options when it comes to their treatment, and make reporting more efficient, freeing up time for our much-admired NHS staff to spend on direct patient care.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Artificial intelligence will play a crucial role in the future of the NHS – and we need to embrace it by introducing systems which can speed up diagnoses, improve patient outcomes, make every pound go further and give clinicians more time with their patients.
“As part of our long-term plan, we will transform the NHS into an ecosystem of enterprise and innovation that allows technology to flourish and evolve.”
Geoff Twist, managing director for Roche Diagnostics Limited said: “We are delighted to be a partner in this pioneering project that will introduce digital pathology and AI to a large network across the North of England covering a population of approximately 15 million people.
“This is a true collaboration with partners from across healthcare delivery and industry, coming together with a common goal to improve diagnostic capabilities to offer cancer patients the best care possible. The ultimate aim is to develop an exemplar model that can be replicated across the UK for the benefit of cancer patients.
“Roche Diagnostics is proud to make a multi-million-pound investment to support this project, and we welcome the Government’s recognition of the value of diagnostics in transforming healthcare.
“Adopting cutting edge digital technology will drive continued improvement in our ability to diagnose disease quicker, more accurately and to pinpoint specific biomarkers enabling the right patients to receive the right treatment at the right time. The future of healthcare is incredibly exciting, with the potential for the UK to develop world-leading digital pathways which support more-informed clinical decision making.”
Sir Alan Langlands, vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, said: “Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is a global leader in the area of digital pathology for cancer diagnosis, thanks to the close links with academic researchers.
“We are now expanding this digitisation across the north through this exciting partnership between universities, the NHS and industry. Going forward, new technologies such as artificial intelligence have the potential to transform how we diagnose cancer and other diseases, and the University is making great advances in this area.”
Dr Yvette Oade, chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “This is a really exciting step for patients because computers using artificial intelligence can be trained to recognise the patterns of disease.
“Machines will support clinically trained pathologists to diagnose cancer faster, better and at lower cost. We can also explore how to use digital pathology as part of precision medicine to ensure patients receive treatments tailored to their disease. This is a huge opportunity for Yorkshire to lead in this new area and further enhance our position as a hub for medical technology.”
The project also aims to develop more integrated ways of working across regional clinical pathology services.
Clinicians will then work with industry and academic researchers to make new AI systems capable of analysing digital pathology images leading to better diagnoses for diseases like cancer.
The work will stimulate AI research locally in academic and business sectors, creating jobs and supporting economic growth across the Leeds City Region.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: “Early diagnosis of illness can greatly increase the chances of successful treatment and save lives.
“The centres announced today bring together the teams that will develop artificial intelligence tools that can analyse medical images varying from x-rays to microscopic sections from tissue biopsies. Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionise the speed and accuracy of medical diagnosis.”
Dr Darren Treanor, a Pathologist at the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, is leading the project.
Speaking at the Alan Turing Institute, he said: “Digital pathology is a technology with a huge potential to improve healthcare. This new northern co-operative will allow us to use digital pathology to help patients across the region, and provide a platform on which we will develop artificial intelligence tools for pathology diagnosis to be used around the world.”
A key part of the project is to consider the ethics of data sharing to ensure NPIC partners abide by the highest professional standards when images are utilised for research purposes.
NPIC will engage patients and the public in a programme of work about the use of anonymised images for AI research. It will also inform the development of a ‘national pathology exchange’ – software that allows images to be shared between NHS sites nationally so that patients can benefit from second opinions from anywhere in the UK.