£50m boost for UK research in healthcare AI

Five new centres for healthcare AI (artificial intelligence) are set to open next year across the UK, backed by £50m in government funding.

Imaging, diagnostics and pathology are fast becoming major frontiers in healthcare AI research, and it is these areas that the new facilities will focus on. The five centres – London, Glasgow, Oxford, Leeds and Coventry – will be based at universities and NHS facilities and are expected to get up and running during 2019.

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Financial backing comes via the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which is managed by the recently established UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under which EPSRC and Innovate UK now operate. Academic and industry experts will work side by side, with medical companies including GE Healthcare, Siemens, Philips, Leica, Canon and Roche Diagnostics involved in the initiative.

“Early diagnosis of illness can greatly increase the chances of successful treatment and save lives,” said UKRI chief executive Professor Sir Mark Walport.

“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.”

The five centres and their areas of healthcare AI focus are:

  • London Medical Imaging and Artificial Intelligence Centre for Value-Based Healthcare will use artificial intelligence in medical imaging and related clinical data for faster and earlier diagnosis and streamlining manual reporting
  • Glasgow’s I-CAIRD (Industrial Centre for AI Research in Digital Diagnostics) will bring together clinicians, health planners and industry to work with innovative SMEs to answer clinical questions, and solve healthcare challenges more quickly and efficiently
  • NCIMI (National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging) in Oxford will consider the role clinical imaging plays in the delivery of more personalised care and earlier diagnosis to support disease prevention and treatment
  • The Northern Pathology Imaging Collaborative (NPIC) located in Leeds will boost the city’s reputation in digital pathology research further by creating a centre linking up 9 industry partners, 8 universities and 9 NHS trusts
  • Based in Coventry, the Pathology image data Lake for Analytics, Knowledge and Education (PathLAKE) will use NHS pathology data to drive economic growth in health-related AI

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According to the UK government, the products developed at the new centres will provide more personalised treatment for patients while freeing up doctors to spend more time on frontline care. The investment in large-scale genomics and image analysis is aimed at improving the understanding of how complex diseases develop, in a proactive step to ensure people get the right treatment at the right time. Early diagnosis of diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s can dramatically improve the care that patients receive and potentially lead to new treatments.

“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,” said health secretary Matt Hancock.

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