North receives £10m government investment for AI and digital pathology

A research partnership, based in the North of England, has been awarded a £10.1m investment from UK Research and Innovation to expand a digital pathology and artificial intelligence programme across the area.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), announced the investment today (Tuesday, 6 November 2018), as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The successful partnership bid, led by the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals, embraces a network of nine NHS hospitals, seven universities and ten industry-leading medical technology companies, called the Northern Pathology Imaging Co-operative (NPIC).

Researchers from the University of Liverpool, who are a member of the partnership, welcomed the announcement of national funding which will allow the creation of a digital pathology clinical network and research programme.

The investment of £10.1m from UK Research and Innovation is boosted by an initial investment of £7m from the companies involved in the programme.

The consortium is now set to become a globally-leading centre for applying artificial intelligence (AI) research to cancer diagnosis.

Sarah Coupland, Professor in Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, George Holt Chair in Pathology and Honorary Consultant Histopathologist at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, is the lead researcher from the University of Liverpool.

Professor Coupland, said: “We are extremely grateful to UK Research and Innovation for their support. This additional funding will enable us to further increase our efforts in working with the people of Liverpool-Merseyside, the Hospital Trusts and Liverpool Health Partners to help address the serious health challenge that Cancer represents in this region.

“New technologies, such as digital pathology will enhance the diagnostic workflow, making it faster, better and ultimately at a lower cost. The application of artificial intelligence to these images, linked in with electronic data, will aid us with our personalised health approach, ensuring that patients receive treatments tailored to their disease.”

NPIC will put new digital pathology scanners into a network of northern NHS hospitals, including all of the hospitals across West Yorkshire and Harrogate, to gather digital pathology images for training AI systems. This will generate about 760,000 images per year, about 1.2 Petabytes of data.

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 improved diagnoses for diseases, like cancer at earlier stages.

The work will stimulate AI research locally in academic and business sectors, creating jobs and supporting economic growth across Northern England.

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.”

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.

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