AI helps cut cancer radiotherapy treatment time

A new artificial intelligence (AI) technology is set to revolutionize cancer radiotherapy treatment times for patients in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). In what it showing to be a true benefit of AI, this groundbreaking system, developed in collaboration with researchers from Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Microsoft, significantly reduces the time patients have to wait before commencing radiotherapy. This technology, known as InnerEye, is being provided to all NHS trusts in England at cost price.

InnerEye’s main function is to assist doctors in determining the precise angles for therapeutic radiation beams during radiotherapy. It achieves this by analyzing medical scans to pinpoint cancerous cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. This advancement is the result of a decade of research and development.

Traditionally, doctors spend anywhere from 25 minutes to two hours analyzing around 100 scan cross-sections for each patient. This process involves meticulously outlining bones and organs. However, InnerEye’s AI program completes this task two and a half times faster than humans.

One illustrative scenario involves treating the prostate gland while avoiding harm to nearby organs such as the bladder and rectum. Damage to these organs could lead to long-term incontinence issues. Dr. Raj Jena, who led the project at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, emphasized the significance of this advancement in improving patients’ quality of life.

InnerEye’s AI capabilities were honed using data from past patients, and it is reported to be about 90% accurate in its assessments. While doctors still review the contours generated by InnerEye, they approve its work without corrections around two-thirds of the time. The AI’s accuracy has even led some doctors to prefer its initial suggestions over those of their colleagues.

The NHS Artificial Intelligence Laboratory provided funding of £500,000 to Addenbrooke’s Hospital to facilitate safety checks and evaluations for InnerEye. The technology is now being handed over to a manufacturer, which has agreed to make the cloud-based platform available to other NHS trusts at cost price.

The implementation of AI technologies in the healthcare sector, including diagnostics and cancer therapy, holds significant promise. AI has the potential to accelerate diagnostic processes, aiding doctors in identifying diseases sooner and improving patients’ chances of recovery. Experts emphasize that while AI can complement medical professionals and streamline processes, it cannot replace the expertise of highly trained and skilled healthcare personnel, but it is can help them be more efficient, and is likely to improve with time.


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