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, which forms part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
The University 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 and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, embraces a network of nine NHS hospitals, seven universities and 10 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 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.
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.”
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 better diagnoses for diseases such as 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 used 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.