NHS to improve cancer treatment by applying AI to its wealth of data

Gov funding and private sector involvement aim to improve patient care

Image of Intel Optane data centre

Prime minister Theresa May is due to allocate millions of pounds in government funding for the NHS to use AI for early diagnosis of cancer and chronic disease.

"Late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths," May will say in a speech on the government's industrial strategy in Macclesfield later today. "The development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings, opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease."

Advertisement - Article continues below

The prime minister will call for industry, charities and the NHS to join together to create algorithms to predict what a patient's care requirements will be based on medical records and patient lifestyle information.

Early intervention would provide less invasive, more affordable and more successful care than late intervention, which often fails, the government believes. It predicts that with this new investment, at least 50,000 people will be diagnosed at an early stage of prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer each year and 22,000 cancer deaths a year will be prevented by 2033.

While the unmatched size of the NHS's collection of data makes it ideal for implementing AI, many are concerned about data privacy. May's proposal would also allow commercial firms to access NHS data for profit.

Advertisement - Article continues below

"Curated data sets that are robust and have both the breadth and depth for training in a particular application are essential," said Robert Mittendorff of Norwest Venture Partners, "but frequently hard to access due to privacy concerns, record identification concerns and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act."

Advertisement - Article continues below

DeepMind, a British AI firm now owned by Google, caused controversy recently when it entered a data-sharing deal with the Royal Free Hospital in 2016 that saw 1.6 million people's data shared without their consent. It was later deemed illegal by the UK's data protection watchdog. An independent panel agreed the deal "lacked clarity".

Despite challenges on the data-security front, the UK has fewer success cases for common cancers and the 18-week standard for time of referral to time of treatment hasn't been met since February 2016. AI implementation could also make up for the staff shortages causing delayed test results and diagnoses.

Part of the proposal also aims, by 2035, to extend people's lives by five years of health and independent living.

"We need to ensure we have the right infrastructure, embedded in our health system, to make this possible," said Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, speaking on the allocation of the proposal's funding to create high-skilled science jobs. "Our goal is that three in four people will survive their cancer by 2034 and we support efforts that will help us achieve this ambition."

This proposal falls under the "grand challenges" programme, in which the government has already invested around 1.4 billion.

Picture: Shutterstock

Featured Resources

Top 5 challenges of migrating applications to the cloud

Explore how VMware Cloud on AWS helps to address common cloud migration challenges

Download now

3 reasons why now is the time to rethink your network

Changing requirements call for new solutions

Download now

All-flash buyer’s guide

Tips for evaluating Solid-State Arrays

Download now

Enabling enterprise machine and deep learning with intelligent storage

The power of AI can only be realised through efficient and performant delivery of data

Download now


artificial intelligence (AI)

MIT develops AI tech to edit outdated Wikipedia articles

13 Feb 2020

Most Popular

Server & storage

HPE warns of 'critical' bug that destroys SSDs after 40,000 hours

26 Mar 2020

These are the companies offering free software during the coronavirus crisis

25 Mar 2020
video conferencing

Zoom beams iOS user data to Facebook for targeted ads

27 Mar 2020
high-performance computing (HPC)

IBM dedicates supercomputing power to coronavirus research

24 Mar 2020