AI Technology to Fast-Track Covid-19 Diagnosis

The Department of Health and Social Care is adopting a technologically driven approach to combat the effects of Covid-19. 

By merging a new National COVID-19 Chest Imaging Database (NCCID) with artificial intelligence, the government plans to expedite the Covid-19 diagnosis process with the hope of saving more lives. 

The rapid spread of the virus and challenges with early detection has prompted medical practitioners to think out the box to combat the disease. 

Based on this premise, NHSX, the government unit responsible for the roll-out of digital transformation care in the NHS, sees that hospitals and universities in the UK have access to thousands of CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays from over 10 000 patients, in a bid to trace and monitor patterns and characteristics of the virus.  

Knowledge gained from analysing the medical data should equip doctors with a higher understanding of the disease’s early stages, whether a patient’s condition is likely to worsen, and formulate or adjust a treatment plan accordingly. 

With the database already being adopted at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and universities in London and Bradford, researchers are using the knowledge to develop algorithms and AI tools to help paint a clearer picture of the virus and improve overall patient care. 

The desired outcome of the research aims to: 

  • Help clinicians set in place early medical interventions
  • Reduce the risk of complications in patients
  • Provide early medical assistance such as the provision of oxygen and medications before a patient’s condition deteriorates
  • Ensure the availability of additional ICU beds and resources should the need arise

Carola-Bibiane Schönlieb, Professor of Applied Mathematics and Head of the Cambridge Image Analysis group at the University of Cambridge, said:

“The NCCID has been invaluable in accelerating our research and provided us with a diverse, well-curated, dataset of UK patients to use in our algorithm development.

“The ability to access the data for 18 different trusts has increased our efficiency and ensures we can focus most of our time on designing and implementing the algorithms for use in the clinic for the benefit of patients.

“By understanding in the early stages of disease, whether a patient is likely to deteriorate, we can intervene earlier to change the course of their disease and potentially save lives as a result.”

This year, the AI Lab, together with the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) and National Institute for Health Research, launched a £140 million AI award, which is set to promote the benefits of AI technologies to healthcare staff and patients. Initially, in September, bids were awarded to 42 organisations, with the second round of bids ending recently. 

Dominic Cushnan, Head of AI Imaging at NHSX, said:

“We are applying the power of artificial intelligence to detect disease patterns and develop new treatments for patients quickly. There is huge potential for patient care, whether through quicker analysis of chest images or better identification of abnormalities.

The industrial-scale collaboration of the NHS, research, and innovators on this project alone has demonstrated the huge potential and benefits of technology in transforming care.”

Elvis Sala, Professor of Oncological Imaging at the University of Cambridge, said:

“The NCCID team has been extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and responsive to our questions throughout the process. This is precisely the initiative we need to ensure we are better prepared and more responsive for future pandemics.”

Dr. Joe Jacob, consultant radiologist and research lead at BSTI, said:

“The National COVID-19 Chest Imaging Database was developed with the support and enthusiasm of chest radiologists and healthcare professionals from around the United Kingdom.

Their efforts have helped to provide a resource that will help the NHS in the management of the healthcare emergency engendered by COVID-19.”

Working with Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust, NHSX established the project during the spring, which aimed to fast-track the current data collection operations. 

Dr. Mark Halling-Brown, Head of Scientific Computing at Royal Surrey County Hospital, said:

“Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust has led the way in creating and sharing research imaging databases that have enabled the development of AI tools and have more recently specialised in the evaluation and validation of AI radiology products within a range of specialities supporting their safe deployment into the clinic.

“Our expertise allowed us to help build the National COVID-19 Chest Imaging Database, and we are excited by the potential of the AI solutions being developed and the research underway that will use this dataset.”

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